Monday, March 14, 2016

Days like this

I recently wrote a post about a day in the life of Sunderland Minster. This one is, by way of a follow-up, a day in the life of the Minster Priest…

Contrary to popular belief, vicars don’t work only one day a week. Nonetheless, Sundays are a ‘high-stakes game’, as so many people come together with such an emotionally-charged investment in what they are participating in. I always wake up earlier on Sundays than any other day of the week, always experience butterflies in my stomach.

This Sunday was no different than any other, in that regard. It turned out like this:

8.00am Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer – a monthly service, only 3 of us present today), in the Bede Chapel. The Commandments, and the set readings, lend themselves to engagement with the latest art installation in the Minster…

9.45am Sung Eucharist (Common Worship – contemporary Anglican liturgy, formal setting – our ‘main’ weekly service, with an attendance of around 100). I’m preaching a series on hospitality through Lent, and not following the Lectionary. Today we’re thinking about hospitality from the margins, or the art of empowering. Before Christmas I have chosen readings – Elijah receiving hospitality from (first carrion birds and then) a widow preparing to die; the imprisoned Paul receiving hospitality from a runaway slave. As I listen to the first reading, to Elijah hiding in a wadi, I am struck by how the sculpture, with I AM YAHWEH cut into it in elongated letters, looks like wadis cut into the cliff face.

Between the readings, the choir sings a setting of the opening verses of Psalm 129 –

‘Many a time have they fought against me from my youth,’
may Israel now say;
‘Many a time have they fought against me from my youth,
but they have not prevailed against me.’
The ploughers ploughed upon my back
and made their furrows long.
But the righteous Lord
has cut the cords of the wicked in pieces. –

and I am struck that the marks in the sculpture might also be those furrows, of which the Lord is deeply aware. And I am also struck, in the light of the sermon I have prepared, by the next word, But

These creative interactions are not planned. They are serendipities. And I am not alone in noticing them. Someone else finds me immediately after the service to ask whether I had noticed, too…

During the distribution of communion, I offer prayer and anointing with oil in the Bede Chapel. Today, only one person takes up the offer; yet it is precious, a God-appointed meeting, in which healing flows.

11.00am today we had an opportunity to hear from George Vasey, the curator of the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, with whom we have partnered in bringing Nicholas Pope’s Yahweh and the Seraphim to Sunderland – a major contribution to Sunderland’s bid to be City of Culture 2021, and an exciting opportunity to engage in a public conversation about the nature of God and of faith.

11.15am (ish) while Feast (informal service, currently incorporating Bible study discussions in English and Farsi, alongside contemplative and creative/making response opportunities; attendance around 30; I am not usually involved) is going on, I’m in the cafĂ© with members of the 9.45am congregation, hearing about their week, listening to what is going on in their lives.

12.00 Throughout Lent, we’ve been having soup lunches and donating money to Christian Aid. I get to meet three delightful Dutch Royal Navy sailors, docked in Sunderland for three days on their way home from Norway, who have just attended Feast. Our conversation is gift to me, as much as our hospitality is gift to them.

2.00pm Holy Baptism, in the Bede Chapel. I have the privilege of baptising a baby boy, whose older sister I had baptised when she was the age he is now; a lovely Nigerian family; a small gathering, in flowing festival robes – including mine.

Sundays are a pressure-point, and I’m very aware that is so for many others, not just me (my clergy colleagues, and many other members of the church have been as busy as I have been, and I'm grateful to and thankful for them). But, by the time I get home in the mid-afternoon, with a bit of admin to attend to but no evening service ahead, I think to myself on days like today my job is the best job in the world.

And it is done for the day, so all that remains is to toast muffins for tea, open a bottle of wine, and, once the boys are in bed and the girl is curled up in a chair listening to music in another room, to settle down in front of the tv with Jo and watch The Night Manager

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