Monday, 10 December 2012

A weekend of fun and laughter - must be Christmas!


It has been a non-stop weekend of fun. Friday night the church hosted a Gospel concert for the YMCA. It was good to see the worship area packed out. God was truly in the house! Saturday we took 'Get in the Picture' to the local shopping centre. The idea being youngsters and their families are invited to dress-up as a character from the nativity, be it a wise man, shepherd, an angle, Mary or baby Jesus, and then have their photograph taken. This can then be downloaded for free off the Internet. We have done this the last two years and struggled to encourage people to travel up the escalator to where we were set up. This year I managed to persuade the manager, Peter, to let us use one of the empty ground floor shops. What a difference it made.  Thanks Peter. We took around 200 photos in 6 hours. Add this to a successful evening at junior PHAB (Physically handicapped and able bodied) club on Wednesday night and we can safely say the event was a success. If you want to know more about 'Get in the Picture' have a look at the website:  

Saturday evening was sermon writing, I really should be better prepared, and X-Factor on TV - should I admit that?. On Sunday morning church we had a visitor, John the Baptist. OK so it was me in my husband's dressing gown, it kind of looked like camel hair, tied with a leather belt. I did make the congregation jump by suddenly appearing and saying in my dodgy Yorkshire accent (with Gloucestershire tinges - I can't help where I am from), 'Hello, do you want a locust?' (mini chocolate Crunchies) before dipping them in my pot of honey I like to do mad things occasionally. Who said church should be boring? Lets have fun, fun, fun! God gave us a sense of humour and a creative mind and wants us to use it. He laughs with us and maybe sometimes at us given the silly things we do sometimes. It's OK to laugh with God. Spirituality laced with humour is a healthy spirituality. It's Christmas lets laugh and have fun!

Many people think church is boring and unfortunately, it so often is. Church, worshiping God, and sharing the gospel should be done with a smile on our face, a glint in our eye, and with much laughter. Who wants to be part of something stuffy, boring and way too serious? I am as guilty as the next preacher in being far too serious sometimes. I am only human (just wrote humour instead of human then - Freudian slip? HAHAHHA) and sometimes I just have other things on my mind that get in the wayThere is of course a place for being serious but we share a message of Good News that we can rejoice in. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, of God being made flesh, the Immanuel - 'God with us.' Who grew up to be a little boy who played, laughed, and had fun. Who reached adulthood and still laughed and had fun. I am sure there were still a few games played as he teased and joked with the disciples. This is the man who's belly shook with laughter and who's tears mingled with others in good times and bad.  This is the Jesus who is real to me.



Friday, 7 December 2012

Do you hear the Advent heartbeat?

I do not intentionally write in verse but somehow it creeps in, or is it out? I like the patterns the words form on the page. I haven't really noticed that much before. It is as if you can see it living and breathing all on its own with its heartbeat connected to God's. I really ought to start reading some poetry and pay attention to its form but maybe my childlike attempts say something in their rawness that would be lost if they become too polished. Well that's my excuse.  Actually, I will make the effort to improve but my to-do list seems endless at the moment. I never know where my writing is going until I start tapping on the keyboard. I am often surprise by the change of direction and unexpected rambling as I connect with God. You never know what you are going to find on a journey. The important thing is to keep our eyes and ears open. To enjoy the wonder of creation through it to hear the gentle whisper of God's voice. Travel too quickly and you miss the moment. It is in the stillness when we pause for thought that we hear His heart beat.  As we journey towards Advent it is good to pause just for a while...    


I am only a child,
Sometimes I act a little wild.
But I long to be 
who you made me.
To sit at your feet 
And feel your heart beat.
Help me to grow
And others to know
Your love is forever.
You long for us to be together 

As I await your desire
Set me on fire.
The Advent hope
Is surely no joke.
I see your infant smile
Lighting up the dial
Of the ticking clock
As I sit in the dock
Waiting for the sentence
Maybe I need repentance? 

The bars that surround
draw me in by their sound.
Trapped in by my shame
I know my excuse is lame.
I try to change
I find it strange
That after so many years
I still shed these tears.
Knowing I am excepted
Because we are connected.

I will get it wrong
And mistake the song.
But need only remember
especially this December.
You are the one 
That brings me most fun.
You are the incarnate joy,
The love, and the boy
who is the gift...


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Imagine...spirituality of writing


I happened on a television program tonight, Imagine...Jeanette Winterson: My Monster and Me. As they talk about inspiring writers and a love of books I have felt a need to write. Jeanette's life story is an interesting one of struggle and rejection. A sense of shame, despair, and self destruction and a way of coping through the world of books. Her creativity and use of English language is apparent through her spoken world. A working class girl, who despite it all managed to study at Oxford University. In February 2008 Jeanette tried to end her life. Her cat scratching her face as she passed out through carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage saved her life. As she came through she spoke out the scripture, 'You must be born again.' Her adopted mother, Mrs Winterton, would quote scripture at her as a child. The same Mrs Winterton who threw her out the house, and mistreated her. The mother who rejected her because of her sexuality. Jeanette seems not to hold any bitterness of her childhood choosing to forgive.

I haven't read any of Jeanette's work but I intend to. I love books. I always have. The smell, the texture of the page, the woven stories that they contain. There is nothing like a good book. As a child I always had books to read.  Paper to write and draw on and on my birthday, if I was lucky, a new pallet of paints. I have been trying to find the creative Jo that exists within me. The blogging has helped but there seems to be more creativity wanting to find expression some how. I don't yet know what form that will take only that I journey with God as I rediscover that what has been dormant for so long. There is a story to be shared and new ones to be created.   

Mrs Winterton wanted her daughter to be a missionary. Jeannette says, "She did get what she wanted because, I am, but just not for Jesus.. its for the power of the word. I suppose even that is something of what she wanted because it does begin, doesn't it,  'in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' and I suppose the word is God to me." The Word and the word collide for me. I am an ambassador for both. There is something about exploring my own spirituality by writing about it. Sometimes you don't know what you think until the pen hits of the paper, or the fingers hit the keys of the laptop. Potential is never realized until you step out in faith and give it a go. 

Out of the mist expression appears
brush strokes on a page,
words formed and made.

Out of my mind the world collides
acts of a play dance,
film credits surprise.

Out of the night sky suddenly falls
darkness and light,
humanity dawns.

Out of my heart emotions erupt
read and you find me,
ignore and I'm lost.



Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Just another Manic Monday

It's just another manic Monday
I wish it were Sunday
'Cause that's my funday
My I don't have to runday
It's just another manic Monday

The Bangles

There was a time when Sundays were a carefree 'funday' with no running around and no work!  Life as a Baptist minister means that Sundays, although often fun, are generally busy.  I have tried to make Mondays less manic.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't.  There is always the unexpected visit or pastoral emergency.  There is always paperwork.  There are always emails and phone calls.  There is always the next sermon to plan and write (Friday is normally sermon writing day).  Today, amongst other things, I sorted out my in-trays, filed some stuff away and wrote several to-do lists.  On my to-do list was to write another blog.  It is nearly midnight as I write this.  I guess today skipped over to tomorrow.  At least it didn't rewind to yesterday.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday. 

Lennon, John Winston / McCartney, Paul James

I had in mind to blog on a new subject today but my mind keeps skipping back to the previous subject of women bishops.  I preached on women in ministry on Sunday.  I hope I did the subject justice.  Justice is, after all, what it is all about (see my post Women Bishops and Baptists).  Before the recent general Synod many thought progress was being made and finally women could be consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England but it looks as though that problem is here to stay, at least for the time being.  In the Baptist tradition we have regional ministers.  Some joke that they are our bishops but, with decisions being made in the church meeting and thus government is bottom-up rather than top-down, they are not quite the same.  The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) is rather like an umbrella that shelters and protects its member churches.  Baptist churches are self-governing and free to discern the mind of Christ for themselves.  BUGB has no Synod to say what must happen in its member churches only advise.  They can advise and support the calling of women ministers, like myself, but they cannot tell a church they must accept a women minister or even allow one to preach.  BUGB seeks to support and encourage women ministers and to help educate its churches.  This is being done and yet I want to ask for more.  If we want society to take us seriously then we cannot preach justice on a Sunday and ignore the needs of our sisters in church.  Whether we are male, or indeed female, we all need to be encouraged and empowered to be who God has called us to be.  What use is it to pray that God sends his Holy Spirit to equip the church if we are going to ignore the gifts of more than half of the congregation.  I am not saying that all are called to lead the church.  I am saying that God calls women as well as men to do so.  It is clear that women need more encouragement than men to use their gifts and take up their calling.    

My journey to ordained ministry has been a long one with many twists and turns, I guess that's life, it began when I was about 16.  Having ran away from my calling, having tried to ignore it, having given it back to God only for it to come rebounding back I finally said yes to God.  Having completed my training it took me an extra year to find a church to pastor.  In the meantime I put that time to good use and completed an MA in mission, perhaps that was God's plan for me, but part of me just wanted to get out there.  Now I am 'out there' part of me wants to study some more, but that's just me.  I like to study.  I like to write.  It is part of who I am.  There is more I could tell you about that difficult journey but I prefer to live in the future rather than dwell on the past.  The future mission of the church lies in the hands of women and men.  It is God's mission not ours.  He has equipped his Church.  She is ready...

 Rise up church with broken wings
Fill this place with songs again
Of our God who reigns on high
By his grace again we'll fly.



Friday, 23 November 2012

Twitter, Blogs and Mumblings

I have been an avid Facebooker for the last six years, or so, it suited me especially whilst I was at college.  Facebook however, has now taken a backseat in favour of Twitter. I have only been twittering properly for the last month. To be honest I couldn't get my head around it so I stayed dormant in my egg. For those of you that don't tweet - you can upload a photo of yourself to Twitter but until then a picture of an egg remains for all to see that you haven't quite cracked it. Twitter is a brilliant way of networking with those you wouldn't normally have contact with. It looks outward into the world, where as Facebook is much more inward looking.  It is not only a brilliant networking opportunity but a way of sharing thoughts and feelings and making new friends.  

Many of the people on Twitter also have a blog. Over the last few days I have enjoyed other people's blogs as well as sharing my own.  I have been greatly encouraged by the response to what I have written and I hope I have also encouraged others.  The subject on everyone's twitter beaks, blogging fingertips, and Facebook lips is the subject of women bishops. Turn on the T.V. open the newspaper, or sit in a cafe and the same mumblings can be heard. My heartfelt cry is, 'Wake up church!' It's time to change and accept women in leadership or become (even more) irrelevant to the average man and women on the Street.

Earlier I read Andy Goodliff's blog and his post 'There is a line of Women' quotes the words of John Bell's hymn that has been shared on Facebook and that Catriona Gorton has written an extra verse to. Please follow the link and have a look for yourself at their thoughts. I was inspired to write a reply to Andy in verse.

Here is the hymn:

There is a line of women 
extending back to Eve
Who's role is shaping history
God only could conceive.
And though, through endless ages,
Their witness was repressed,
God valued and encourage them 
Through whom the world was blessed.
So sing a song of Sarah
To laughter she gave birth;
And sing a song of Tamar
Who stood for women's worth;
And sing a song of Hannah
Who bargained with her Lord;
And sing a song of Mary
Who bore and bred God's Word.
There is a line of women
Who took on powerful men
Defying laws and scruples
To let life live again.
And though, despite their triumph,
Their stories stay untold
God kept their number growing,
Creative, strong and bold.
So sing a song of Shiphrah
With Puah close at hand,
Engaged to kill male children,
They foiled the king's command.
And sing a song of Rahab
Who sheltered spies and lied; 
And sing a song of Esther
Preventing genocide.
There is a line of women
Who stood by Jesus side,
Who housed him while he ministered
And held him when he died.
And though they claimed he'd risen
Their news was deemed suspect
Till Jesus stood among them,
His womanly elect.
So sing a song of Anna
Who saw Christ's infant face;
And sing a song of Martha
Who gave him food and space;
And sing of all the Marys
Who heeded his requests,
And now at heaven's banquet
Are Jesus' fondest guests.

John L. Bell @ 2002 WGRG, Iona Community, 
4th floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3DH Scotland.   

And my response:

There is a long line of women
Numb and full of pain
Wondering if life
Will ever be the same.
There is a long line of women
Weeping at the cross
Wondering if you
Will mop their tears
And take away their pain.
There is a long line of women
Holding hands in unity
Waiting for you to do the same.

By Revdjo

I took this at an art exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Women Bishops and Baptists

My own journey as a women in ministry has not been as easy one.  Opportunities to preach and to use my gifts have been sadly lacking.  There have been times that I felt rather much life a jack-in-a-box waiting for someone to push the button and release me from my confined black box.  Thankfully God's light shines in the darkness and I have never lost my hope of truly being the women of God that I am meant to be.  We are all a work in progress and I will never be the finished product this side of eternity.  

Having spent 15 years as a financial adviser I have been used to working in a man's world where basic salaries were higher for men than women just because they were men.  In the world of commission based sales however, gender is not an issue as earnings are dependent upon performance.  I liked this levelling of the playing field.  Most people are not paid by commission but are salaried.  I have no idea whether the gender pay gaps are getting smaller, or not, I hope they are.  I hope that more women are being promoted to executive level.  To me this is an issue of justice.  It is not really about the money.  It is about having an equal playing field and the opportunities available to you whether you are male or female, and indeed whether you are black or white, able bodied or disabled.  It is a question of being able to reach your full potential and not being boxed in, or hitting some kind of glass ceiling, or as someone on twitter referred to as 'the stained glass ceiling.'  Today the Church of England Synod discussed, prayed, and voted as to whether women could be bishops.  Today was a sad day and I weep with my Anglican clergy sisters.        

Synod voted: 
House of Bishops 44 for, 3 against, 2 abstentions
House of Clergy 148 for, 45 against, 0 abstentions
House of Laity 132 for, 74 against, 0 abstentions
The measure for women bishops is not approved. 

Today there was also good news, Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated as Southern Africa's first Anglican bishop.  Wow!  Fantastic!  Hallelujah!  Thank you Lord!  Why not in this country?  You can argue theology all you like but for me this is about the 'old boys network' and a church culture that needs to change.  

Looking at the results of the Synod's vote an obvious conclusion can be drawn.  There is a need for church leaders to teach their congregations (the laity) that there is no male or female in Christ, that women have been given the same gifts to lead and indeed have been called, by God, to use those gifts.  I am not an Anglican, I am a Baptist minister who believes in the priesthood of all believers but also that God calls individuals, men and women, to lead his church.  I have no desire to be a bishop, that's not my bag, but if the Anglican church are going to appoint bishops let them appoint my sisters as well.  The need to teach our congregations this important lesson is necessary in Baptist churches and indeed across our denominations.  Violet Hedger was the first female to be accepted for training for Baptist ministry in 1922.  Ninety years later there are still many Baptist churches in England and Wales who will not entertain a women as minister.  Opportunities are limited for my Baptist minister sisters as well.  Will this still be the same 100 year after Hedger was accepted for training? 

Please let my sisters and I out of the box.     

The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  John 1:5

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

To do or not to do

There is so much buzzing through my head these days it is difficult to know what to do or think about first.  I have a 'to do' list for medium to long term objectives but what about the more pressing things.  Do I waste time making a list or do I just wade straight in and get on with the tasks and check them off my mental 'to do' list.  Who knows what is right or wrong.  My list of blogging subjects seems to be in the same vain.  It seems though that there is a time lag in that I want to write about things after the proverbial horse has bolted rather than being current.  Perhaps that is just the nature of being a reflective practitioner, or at least trying to be.  

These are the things I have been thinking about and why.  Should I, shouldn't I?  What do you think?

Post traumatic stress disorder - I watched Ross Kemp's excellent program last night that looked at PTSD.
Armistice - I always get a bit chocked with the Remembrance Day words.
Spiritual direction - I have just taken this up.
Twitter - I am a new tweeter and slightly addicted.
Organizing my life - I am trying to find that work, life, spirituality balance. 
London guard coming to attention and salutingRecipes - I have a number of food allergies that makes eating boring.

Jimmy Savile - how can we support the abused?    
Opticians - 'seeing is believing' the search for vision.

Inter-faith - I listened to a Hindu speak on spirituality and quantum physics last night. 
Stalking - I watched a very good program on this a month or so ago.  I have been stalked.

Betting - was it right to bet on the Arch Bishop of Canterbury's appointment when it had been leaked?
Lucifer - do angles and demons exist?
Origami - to fold or not to fold? Just joking I know nothing about origami.
Gathering - is the word 'family' helpful in the context of church?
Gymnastics - spiritual and physical exercise.
Ingrowing toenail - how outward looking is the church?
Novel - is there a book in me somewhere?
Giggles - The need to laugh at myself.

Well pastor Jo is blogging .... and it looks a lot like a to do list.

Emoticon with big smile

Friday, 12 October 2012

World Mental Health Day

It was World Mental Health Day yesterday.  It is strange to think that although society has moved on that there is still a stigma attached to suffering from a mental illness.  Many of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some stage in our lifetime.  Current statistics say that 1 in 4 of us will do so in the course of a year.[1]  There are many factors that affect our ability to cope, sometimes things beyond our control.  Mental health problems may by brought on by a stressful life event, such as, trauma, bereavement, or divorce, or a genetic predisposition towards mental illness, or may comes out of the blue with no apparent cause often bringing with it confusion and distress. To be diagnosed with a mental illness can be a frightening and bewildering experience.  Mental health problems are not always obvious in the same way perhaps a broken leg would be and can easily go unnoticed and hidden. Estimates are that 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem.[2]  Whilst this is a large number those who suffer often feel isolated, alone. When suffering from a mental illness those have been at the centre of church activity often gravitate to the edges of church activity as the become ill, and those who have had little church contact who are ill and may want to explore faith, find it difficult to enter even the fringes of church life.

Recent Government cuts to funding has meant that the mental heath charity, MIND, were forced to close its own drop-in centre facilities which had been a great source of comfort and help to many.  One of the things we have done in Burton was to invite the local Mind clients to come and join us at our weekly drop- in.  We do not provide counseling or medical advice but we can offer a non-judgemental ‘listening ear’, and signposting to other services if the need arises.  A year on relationships and trust are growing and we are seeing around 40 people dropping in on our Wednesday sessions, with some occasionally worshiping with us on a Sunday morning.   The Church is called to share the love of God (Mat 28:16-20) and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mat 22:39) this includes extending friendship, and indeed love, to those who have been stigmatized and shunned by society.  According to the Mental Health Foundation, 

There is no single definition of the concept of recovery for people with mental health problems, but the guiding principle is hope – the belief that it is possible for someone to regain a meaningful life, despite serious mental illness. Recovery is often referred to as a process, outlook, vision, conceptual framework or guiding principle.[3]

The Christian message is full hope.  This is what we offer and yet we so often keep the gospel all to ourselves.  The word that best describes the Old Testament's understanding of health is Shalom which is often translated as ‘peace’ but in its wider meaning ‘completeness’, ‘wholeness’, ‘well-being’, ‘soundness’, ‘harmony’, or ‘prosperity’.  Good health then is about wholeness of mind, body, and spirit that requires a holistic approach that looks at the whole of a person.  Why is there so much tension between the psychiatric professions and the church when we want the same result?  To see people on the road to recovery, what ever that looks like.  Whilst psychology and the Church have different methodologies, reflected in their own language, for a fully holistic approach to mental health there is a need to work together for the sake of those we are trying to help.  

For true wholeness the spirituality of a person needs to be taken into consideration without this understand and acknowledgement those with mental health problems will continue to be misunderstood.  Some mental heath professionals struggle with the topic of spirituality thinking it not to be scientific enough and too akin to religion.[4]  Spirituality, however, is a characteristic of us all whether we consider ourselves to hold religious beliefs or not.  Spirituality is our outward expression of what is going on inside as we relate to the world we live in.  Spirituality is not a specifically religious concept although formal religion is one way that it is expressed.  The church has a role to play in helping those with mental health problems to explore their own spirituality and to find their own voice in their search for recovery.  Both the Church and mental health professionals have much to learn from each other’s specialist fields as we care for those with mental health problems.  Both have made mistakes in caring for those who are already struggling without adding to their problems.  It is time to work together for the sake of those we are trying to help.