Monday, 29 April 2013

You shall anoint my head with oil

On Friday morning I listened to 'The reunion' on radio 4, which had the coronation as its theme. The interviewees were all maids of honour on the great day in 1953. I was struck that as they considered the service, it was the anointing of the Queen by the archbishop that they considered the most moving moment. That part was seen as being so holy that it was not included in the televising of the service.

Two days later I was doing some anointing of my own. Five beautiful children were brought for baptism in Hardingstone on Sunday morning, two of them old enough to have thought hard about it for themselves and worked hard with me over a number of sessions preparing for the day. For those five children the moment of anointing was not done in private, but it was every bit as holy and to my mind even more important than the moving moment in the cathedral.

While many think of anointing only in the context of illness or the approach of death, there is another anointing with roots back into the earliest days of scripture. Anointing with oil in this context is a symbol of God's calling. Use of it reminds the anointed that they are holy; in other words they are chosen and loved by God. More than that, as people chosen and loved by God, they have a work to do which is given to them by God, which he calls them to do on his behalf. For the Queen, anointing was a symbol of the very particular vocation  that she inherited when her father ascended the throne, to reign as monarch and be the uniting figure amongst the nations that call her Queen.

I have been anointed with oil in this way once in my life as well, when I was made a priest. Oil was applied liberally to my open hands as a reminder to me and to those watching that I had been set aside for a particular task, one that God had called me to do. It is simultaneously awe inspiring and comforting to remember that formal moment of declared holiness. Can I be called to something so special for God? Yes, but holiness comes from God, is available only when the Holy Spirit is present, and so the achievement of the given task is dependent not on my ability or strength but on the presence of the Holy Spirit. The oil reminds me that I only need to remain open to God for the task to be achievable.

Anointing with oil in baptism is not universally offered. It certainly wasn't available when I was baptised. When my daughters were baptised, the shared service was both Anglican and Roman Catholic, and the gift of that symbol came from the Catholic side. Anglicans draw on our Catholic inheritance when we choose to include anointing within our baptism services. I collected the oil of baptism, along with oils of chrism and healing when I attended the annual Maundy Thursday service at the diocesan cathedral. As we renewed our vows in the service, I was reminded of the call I have been anointed for. Central to that call is the calling of others into faith in and service of God.

In baptism the anointing shows everyone that this person is holy. This person is loved by God and chosen by God. And the anointing shows that the person, however young or old has a calling. The calling is to be a disciple of the God who makes them holy. To follow to the best of their ability; to pray and worship and try hard to learn more; to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and mind and soul, and to love their neighbour as they love themselves.

There can be no higher calling than to be a disciple of Christ. Those who are called to be ordained are first of all disciples, and they have this particular task given to them as part of their discipleship. Those who are called to reign are also first and foremost disciples. Their ability to reign well depends on the faithfulness of their discipleship. For me, being allowed to be the one who administers this anointing is a stunning privilege.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Another week of important and wonderful things

I read a blog by another vicar during the week listing the many things we are meant to be. Among them was 'endearingly disorganised'. I qualify for the second word, but infuriatingly might be a better word than endearingly. Of course there are all sorts of sensible strategies for being organised. Diarising time to do preparation, filing things immediately, all that sort of stuff. As it happens, I do diarise prep but that doesn't stop the phone ringing while I am doing it. My phone rings a lot. Occasionally the result of answering the phone or listening to a voicemail message is having to drop everything and go to that person immediately. It isn't often that a call needs such an instant response, but it did happen this week.

This week one of the wonderful things that happened was a lovely parishioner taking some admin away and making things happen for me. She left me free to concentrate on the things that must be done by the parish priest, and it was a great blessing in a busy week.

Another blessing was a lesson with year four at our church school. Teasing out what is distinctive about a Christian as opposed to any other human being via the formula Faith = Belief + Action led to some good thinking by the class.

Last week included a lot of time spent with bereaved people thinking about funerals that will happen over the next two weeks. Unusually, they are all to be church funerals, covering the whole Benefice, and seeing Benefice officers swinging into action to help make the funerals go well is another blessing. Some aspects have been troublesome, and my tendency to insecurity and self condemnation means that I wake up in the mornings full of anxiety about the difficult things, the problems and challenges. Today I want to remind myself that those moments, however much they affect my dreams, are tempered by so many good moments and good people. The warden and pastoral worker in one village who has attended every funeral visit with me and made numerous visits of her own. The warden who took on a large and unpalatable piece of research for the church, and the warden from a neighbouring church who offered to help her. The warden who spent a morning helping two inexperienced wardens sort out their logs from their terriers, and is willing to keep on helping. I could go on, and despite the last couple of sentences it isn't all church wardens who do marvellous things, though I am blessed with six great wardens.

To go through my diary in detail in a blog would be boring for you. For me everything in it is important. Everything I do, every concern of every person I see, is the most important thing to that person or group of people. I have to treat every meeting and visit and lesson as the most precious and important thing in my life, because for that period of time it is, and because that it is the most important thing for the people I am with. So whether I have mentioned the time I spent with you in this blog or not, you were and are important to me. You are hugely important to God.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The second week of Easter 2013

This time last week I was enjoying a few days away with my dearly beloved and refilling the physical jug after the intensity of Holy Week and Easter. I confess that it feels much longer ago! Every week, so much happens in Living Brook that somehow the illusive thing that is time has to stretch to accommodate it all, while somehow feeling that it has passed at such speed that I must have missed a day or two.

I returned to work on Sunday (having prepared everything I needed for the services over a week before). The usual Low Sunday effect prevailed at two of the churches, with turnout a little lower than usual; unfortunately some of the missing people were suffering unpleasant colds and bugs rather than enjoying their own post Easter breaks. I was pretty sniffy myself, but a pocket full of tissues was all I needed, thankfully. We were still able to celebrate the fabulous fundraising done in Lent. Our hope to raise enough money to twin one toilet in Burundi became a reality of having raised enough for four and being well on the way to five, with other private sponsorships within the parishes as well. Fantastic! At Quinton we enjoyed a church full to bulging as seven month old Ralf was brought for baptism. His big brothers did a fine job with the reading and lighting the paschal candle, and the many children in church deserved the chocolate eggs I gave out at the end, having answered a lot of questions very well in the course of the service.

Monday was when I had to start tackling the massive admin backlog and before long I knew that it was going to be impossible. Because Monday also had to include baptism preparation for two lovely primary aged children and a visit to the grieving widower of a lady whose funeral was on Wednesday. On Tuesday I began to put in place arrangements for two more funerals, and heard about a fourth, which began to be put in place today. Visits, phone calls, form filling and prayer for the funerals dominate the week, but there was also time for an excellent working meeting of the good people in Hardingstone who manage the care of the churchyard of the church, for a meeting for prayer and sharing with my nearby Baptist colleague, for a meeting with a parish councillor and parish clerk to catch up with village priorities, and to attend an annual parish meeting for the same village.

Tuesday evening was the Quinton APCM, with a turnout that was double that of the previous year. Two new members were welcomed to the PCC, which is a great delight. Quinton will soon host a daytime house group too, open to all the Benefice, a development which will bring many blessings. Somehow I couldn't manage to write the Priest in charge's letter for Hardingstone APCM until after the Quinton APCM was over, so it wasn't done until Wednesday, which must have been really maddening for poor Sally, the hero who is secretary to two of the PCC's in the Benefice.

Tonight the lovely parish next door will see a new priest in charge licensed, and so I'll be surrendering my place as the new girl on the block to another. Her arrival is exciting - she'll be an excellent successor to her excellent predecessor and I look forward to working with her and bringing our parishes closer together as partners in God's work on the southern side of Northampton.

Somehow I've managed to fill my diary for Saturday with meetings to prepare for the APCM, to work with a friend on his M Th dissertation (done with less guilt as my draft proposal is at last ready to be looked at today, having missed two deadlines) and to receive a curate bringing me a portfolio which I am looking forward to reading next week. Somehow a sermon will write itself, my daughter's clothes will be washed and packed before her return to university on Sunday and maybe, if I'm very focused, an email or two might be answered.

God's had a busy week round here, even busier in the rest of the world. What a privilege to be part of it.