Calling

A Summer sunny afternoon needed a ‘thinking walk’, as Winnie the Pooh called them. To be honest though, it was more of a ‘ranting walk’.

As our churches emerged from the intensity of the pandemic restrictions, the criticisers and complainers had gone back to normal too. Whether lay or ordained (and we have both in our house) being a minister is not always halos and wings – indeed there are plenty who make sure one is regularly tilted or clipped.

My thoughts ranged the full spectrum from resigning as a lay minister to discerning what God might be calling me on to.

And of course, God knew what he was doing more than I did – and how often I am grateful for that. For just after returning home, in comes the weekly newsletter from the Diocese of Exeter (that part of the Church of England in which we live). ‘Voluntary Chaplain wanted for South West Ministry Training Course’. (SWMTC trains people for both lay and ordained ministry.)

Oooh… that sounds good. That sounds very good. That even sits of the edge of excitement… (I don’t do excitement).

I’d not been looking to do any kind of formal voluntary work but as a lay minister, clergy spouse, long-term listener of people and with an almost equally long-standing passion for supporting those in ministry, it seemed a good fit.

Discerning God’s call often involves letting something ‘sit’ and then, after a while, sharing it with others. I did both. Application and interview followed. My first interview for 18 years… but God was good (as were the interviewees). I felt seen for who I am which was an unexpected and welcome blessing.

Even more of an unexpected and welcome blessing was that I was offered the position!

God’s call was clear. I have not felt so sure about something in quite the same way for a while: all the same it was still a surprise!

The role involves attending a couple of residential training weekends each term together with an Lent/Easter school. To be there with two other Chaplains accompanying those in training: companions on a journey. It is not a smooth path but if by fellow travelling I can help remove a few stones, there will be much joy in the journey also.

When I trained to be a lay minister some twenty years ago, I felt that was bringing together my then previous experience of church life and faith. This new calling provides a similar ‘bringing together’ of the skills and experience God has granted me. What a honour and a privilege.

different threadsI often find it helpful to think back and see how the different threads of life are brought together. Perhaps you feel the same? What patterns do you see in your life? What skills and experiences has God given you that have developed or been used throughout it?

Maybe take some time to listen and reflect on the words of a song which, for me, represents all there is to say about our openness to God’s calling on our lives:

Here I am, Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

 

 

 

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I, the Lord of sea and sky by Daniel L. Schutte (b.1947) © 1981 Daniel L. Schutte & New Dawn Music

 

God knows what we are doing

A few days ago, my wife, who (unlike her husband) is often prone to outbursts of excitement, came rushing in saying, ‘Richard, there’s a message on the answerphone from the Dean of Southwark Cathedral!  They’ve been using Life with St Benedict in their online Night Prayer and he wants to talk to you about it.’

It’s always lovely to learn that something one has done is being helpful to others. And if you’re interested, the interchange I then had with Dean Andrew Nunn has resulted in an online event to which you would be most welcome.

It reminded me of others who have done things about which they know nothing of the longer-term impact. In my last year at school, the Upper Sixth as it was called then, Miss Edwards became one of those influencers. The geography teacher who never actually taught me was a mainstay in that final year following my mum’s death in the preceding summer holidays. She would regularly give me time and space to talk. She was the one who asked for exam boards to take into account what had happened (I still got ungraded but her thought meant far more than that). She once asked me, ‘What do you want to become in the future?’ For reasons unbeknown to myself, although it probably reflected my loss of identity at that time, I replied: ‘I’d like to be well-known – not famous, just well-known.’ Hey ho, such are the workings of a 17 year-old’s mind.

Fast forward to two years ago and I moved from being ‘well-known’ – at least in the field of work I was in – to being ‘unknown’. It was a strange transition, but supported by a guiding principle.

One of the Bible verses that has been influential on my attempts to live out the faith in which I believe is: ‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:3-4)

Knowing that God knows what we do is sufficient. We are seen by God’s eyes. And God’s rewards (given  not sought) are many. It’s why you wouldn’t have found my name on the website at work. It’s why the title of this blog (and my Twitter feed) is not my name (I struggle with the ‘About’ page, by the way… oh, there you are, I’ve just hyperlinked it so you know who I am…). It’s why I am influenced by St Benedict and in particular his teaching about humility.

We do of course live in a world which depends on people being known by name (after all, who on earth is Richard Frost – it’s no wonder he has so few followers). Knowing the name of a particular author, speaker or dare I use the word ‘celebrity’, can be helpful: we might be helped by what they do. Knowing a name is useful: hospital staff have it written on their PPE so colleagues know who they are. Our name is crucial to our own sense of identity – so often challenged as we travel through life and not least in this time of pandemic when many of us have lost something of what we do and who we are.

But it is God who knows what we do. That is sufficient.

Uncertain certainty

‘The virus has robbed us of many things. It continues to rob us of any certainty.’

In many ways, those words by BBC correspondent, Chris Mason sum up these last few months.

Our local churches have begun opening for public worship for the first time since March. Many might have hoped to go back to a place of certainty… but with its hand sanitisers, the wearing of face coverings, social distancing, and no hymns or coffee it too has changed. It’s different.

The Gospel reading for today (9 Aug) is very appropriate for the current time (Matthew 14:22-33). It’s an account of when the disciples were in their boat crossing Lake Galilee in the middle of the night. Not unusually, a storm blows up. The boat is blown around. And then out of the tumult, Jesus walks on the water towards them. Given their exhaustion and the darkness, it’s not surprising they think it’s a ghost.

But Peter knows it’s Jesus. Responding to Christ’s call, Peter steps out in faith on to the water… and then he noticed the wind.

Peter sinks down and is grasped by Jesus’ hand. Jesus then climbs back in the boat and calms the storm allowing the disciples to continue their journey.

Stepping out in faith is no guarantee that we will not hit troubled or stormy waters. You’ve probably had your own encounters of stepping out in faith and things being difficult. You will have stepped out… and then noticed the wind.

Jesus said to Peter: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

A cruel put-down or words of empathic reassurance?

Did Peter really have little faith? After all, nobody else got out of the boat.

So here we are. We of little faith. A little faith that enables us to step out in the storm. A faith which grasps the hand of Jesus as he reaches out to us.

Jesus places us safely in the boat. He climbs in with us. He calms the storm and takes us on our journey. A journey yes, in to uncharted waters. A journey of continuing change. But also a journey of certainty. A journey in which we will never be abandoned.

Whatever the change. Whatever the loss of certainty.

Do not be afraid.

 

 

(This post is a shortened version of a spoken reflection at St Michael’s, Teignmouth in Devon as it reopened for worship on 9 Aug and that included in the online service for that day.)