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MOTHERING SUNDAY

A sermon for Mothering Sunday by Deacon Jessica Foster.

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It may surprise you to learn that I don’t really like Mother’s Day. It won’t surprise my Mum who is sitting here in the congregation because she knows how contrary I am.

I don’t like Mothers Day in the same way I don’t like the fact that the Diocese has a Dean of Women’s ministry. Having a Dean of Women implies that men’s ministry is the default.  Having one day to focus on mothers means their work can be ignored and unappreciated for the other 364 days.

I also don’t like Mother’s Day because it can make people sad. It’s not a great day if you are living with infertility and  I can’t imagine what it feels like today for mothers who are separated from their children and live every day with the unimaginable pain of being apart. It can also make people– and particularly women – who are not Mothers feel as if they don’t count and that motherhood is some exalted, mysterious state. When my sister came to see me the day after my twins were born she said I looked like an adult for the first time and I think in our culture there is some myth that a woman without children is somehow incomplete. I look to a prophet, a teller of truths, outside the church  to answer that.

In her book, How to Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran says: “ I don’t think there is a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learnt elsewhere.. it’s nothing you could not get from say reading the 100 greatest books in human history, learning a foreign language well enough to argue in it, climbing hills, loving recklessly, sitting quietly alone in the dawn, drinking whisky with revolutionaries, swimming in a river in winter, growing foxgloves peas and roses, calling your Mum, singing while you walk, being polite and always, always helping strangers.” I would of course add coming to the Eucharist and prayer to that list.

In today’s readings we see new family structures being created that do not depend on genetics and biology.  While we are commanded to honour our parents, elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus seemed ambivalent about the importance of these ties – preferring to spend time with his friends and followers. But in John’s Gospel, with loving compassion for his friend and his mother we see Jesus giving Mary and John to each other, creating a new interdependency that was born in that moment of agony and despair.

The familiar story we heard from Exodus shows how resourceful women work together to protect a child and enable God’s loving work of liberation. Moses is placed in a dark, womb-like floating cradle where his sister watches him waiting for a rebirth. Then in a way that so resembles baptism, he is drawn out of the river waters and is reborn with a new identity, safe in the household of Pharoh. What happens next is history and our shared story of freedom and salvation.

These stories offer us models of relationships which bring comfort, safety and nurture in both older age and youth. Mothering is not only for a woman and the child she bore.  Paul, we heard in Thessolonians, is not afraid to compare his ministry to that of a breastfeeding mother – an allusion we often don’t hear clearly as the word ‘nurse’ has changed its meaning over the years. If Paul, not the most cuddly of Biblical characters, is happy to talk about his relationship being one of mothering I wonder why it is not a metaphor of relationship we talk about much inside or outside the church. We are so much easier with a Father of all but rarely do we speak of a mother outside a domestic setting.

Perhaps we avoid it as a model for nurturing relationships because it is too demanding or too overwhelming. We might think we don’t have time or energy to be a mother to people and that to be mothered would limit our freedom and turn us into child-like dependency. Maybe what we are thinking about is smothering rather than mothering.

I was recently reading about the ‘good enough’ theory of parenting. It goes something like this. When a baby is newborn the Mother (usually) bends over backwards to make sure the baby has its needs met. But gradually the Mother can’t meet all the needs all the time and the baby has to learn to wait, to make do and communicate more. So the theory goes, it is the Mother’s failure to be perfect that teaches the child independence and resilience and so a good enough parent may well be more use than a perfect one. If we don’t have to be perfect – can we risk being a mother?

Or perhaps we don’t like mothering as a model of relationship because it seems exclusive and limited only to those inside the family group – the well-used stereotype of a protective lioness ready to kill anyone or anything that threatens the welfare of her cubs. (You should see me if anyone is rude to my children).

I think this kind of loving is perhaps ‘othering’ rather than mothering. When we other someone we seem them in groups, we focus only on our differences and the ways in which we are not like one another. We view them as a threat to our possessions, our inheritance, our identity and we take away their humanity, they stop being our neighbour and then we don’t have to care. Some theologians talk about this being an I-it relationship rather than an I-thou relationship.

It’s very easy to ‘other’ especially when we feel threatened. I can find myself growling like a lioness when someone tries helpfully to do something I consider ‘my job’- it may be something ridiculously simple like pouring the tea at Church coffee. You may recognise the feeling.

Perhaps we other when we become too attached to an identity formed by our jobs, family, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age, or culture. When we feel we have a lot to protect we can use these things as barriers to keep others away. These things were not a barrier for Jesus –   in Jesus’s eyes people were not a collection of labels or markers but children of God. Jesus was clear that his identity was tied up in God and perhaps that’s why he did not worry too much about always keeping his mother happy.

 We too, like Jesus, Moses and Mary are offered new identities in the waters of baptism. As new creations in Christ we are freed from the need to be ‘somebody’ and then we are not threatened by the other. This new creation, the new identity is nurtured in the womb of the church and fed by the Eucharist. It sets us free to mother and be mothered – not falling into smothering or othering.

And so while I am ambivalent at best about Mother’s Day, I think Mothering Sunday is an important day to remember that we are all called to mother and be mothered. The Bible is full of images of mothering, God as mother, Jesus as mother, Paul as mother. An Eygptian ruler’s daughter mothering the son of a Hebrew slave, the beloved disciple being mothered by a bereaved woman.

So let us celebrate today the motherhood of all believers. Let us thank God for all the people who have fed us, loved us, nurtured us and prayed for us and let us be ready to mother and be mothered as we love and live together.

(Image by ABC News-Go.com)

POTTED HISTORY

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Wondering how the diaconate started?  How it developed?  Take a look at our new page (see tab at top) POTTED HISTORY OF THE DIACONATE.

LENTEN JOURNEY

A reflection by Deacon Lynne Chitty.

A Lenten Journey.

A gathering of swans in a flooded field 

A deer, still, alert, beautiful, fragile,

A buzzard circling in the sky

A pigeon with a damaged wing.

Ponies racing round their enclosure playing ‘Follow the leader’

A badger, muddy, twisted, dead

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The joy, the magnificence, the beauty, the tragedy, the pain and the playfulness of creation and its creator, all glimpsed through a train window on my way to run a half marathon in Bath.

The gracefulness of a bird of prey, the desperate sight of a pigeon flapping its useless wing in vain. The exuberance of ponies delighting in freedom and the desperate sight of a badger lying amongst the garbage by the track. All offering glimpses of what still lies ahead on our Lenten journey. The baby in the manger has been gathered up, acknowledged in the temple, and grown into the man we are now following to Jerusalem. Still Emmanuel, God with us and among us, celebrating and enriching our humanity. But soon to be stripped of its very essence.

Moments of transfiguration, revelation, healing, betrayal, despair. Moments that make the spirit soar and the heart ache as we embrace the Gospels and the life, death and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s journey to Jerusalem. The child becoming an adult is our journey, in all our capacity to be fully human. It is the story of our failures in all we do to deny that capacity. It is the story of grace as time and time again we are given the strength to begin again. We are surrounded by the joys of beauty and the challenges of tragedy but we are equipped as Christ was with the most precious gift of prayer. Communion with our Father which is the deepest and yet the most elusive relationship of our lives.

If we are to make it to Jerusalem, then our journey must be undergirded and sustained by prayer. Prayer that has its beginnings in Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, and which culminates in the great prayer wrung out of the agony of the cross. Prayer that gathers up and requires all our energy. Prayer that expresses consolation, joy, pain, frustration, hope, longing, faith and doubt. Prayer that is alive in our wrestling, our receiving, our encountering, our discovering, our losing.  Prayer of early morning silence and solitude, prayer of great togetherness, prayer of every shape and size, every mood and moment. Sometimes time flies, sometimes it stands still. Sometimes we are so full of our own noise, time seems wasted. At all times prayer is prayer. Even when we are disheartened, when we are overwhelmed by the misery of our inadequacy, when everything seems pointless. For to balance those times there will be moments alive with the awareness of a presence greater than ourselves. There will be an excitement. A knowing. A healing. A sense of being drawn and drawing others deeper into the mystery of the love of God.

So as we journey towards Jerusalem, let’s feast on prayer. Let’s hunger for a deeper relationship with God. Let’s stay close to Christ and be open to the Spirit. But let us know that we cannot pray lightly. Prayer is an enveloping our whole being with the Trinity. With the world in all its joy and in all its heartache, it will take us to mountain tops, it will take us to deserts, and it will take us to Calvary – at least as close as we can bear.

The great relief is that we don’t journey alone. We journey together and we follow in the footsteps of others.

Like St Peter we are both reluctant and resolute. Faithful and faithless, confident but fallible. Both determined and afraid to see the journey through.

Standing on the start line with 13 miles ahead of me. I knew fear. I knew excitement. Would I finish? would I collapse? Would I let everyone down and give up half way round because of aching and hurting muscles?

With a lot of help from the crowd, I got there.  As I travelled home on the train reflecting on the day, on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem , on our calling as deacons to pray for and with those around us and to bear in our hearts the earth’s songs and her tears, I found myself  in tears. Tears of vulnerability, tears of gratitude, tears of determination, tears of joy, tears of grief as I looked out again on the brokenness of creation and on her stunning beauty,

May we all in our Diaconal roles this Lent and this Easter be the eyes through which others glimpse the love of God, the hearts through which others feel the compassion of God and may integrity, hope and prayer be our gifts to the world we so love, and so long to be transformed and renewed. Let’s journey together and stand at the foot of the cross together.   And let’s be there together early on the third day…

Deacon Lynne Chitty

 

(photo from dailymail.co.uk)

MARATHON DEACON

Huge congratulations to Deacon Lynne Chitty for achieving her marathon challenge on behalf of Animals Asia!

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Diaconal ‘guru’ the Rev Dr Sister Teresa White, CSA has sent this letter from the ‘Tablet’ and comments ‘the same arguments again!’

As long as the diaconate is seen as simply another provider of liturgy and day-to-day pastoral care, these arguments will continue.  Once it’s understood that the deacon has both the calling, conviction and authority to encourage the church to look outwards, to lead it in mission, and to create connections with the community, then such arguments become largely irrelevant.

Diaconal danger

I share Elaine Gavaghan’s fears (Letters, 4 March) of the permanent diaconate taking over roles usually undertaken by lay people.  Many who advocate restoring the diaconate for women claim that since women are already carrying out many pastoral roles these should be affirmed by ordination. However, women who provide all sorts of pastoral services do so as lay people seeking to live out their vocation, mandated by their baptism, to proclaim the Good News within church communities as in all other aspects of their lives.

Lay people in pastoral posts (parish, chaplaincy or similar) can or should be able to lead prayer groups and communion services, teach, preach, counsel, lead funeral services, catechise, theologise, baptise, conduct marriage services, hold leadership and decisionmaking roles and much more.

The two no-go sacramental areas are as celebrants of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, neither of which is accessible to deacons either.

While ordaining women as deacons in the early Church was a means of endorsing their ministry and empowering them, today the permanent diaconate would serve to control this diversity of ministry of lay women (and men), impoverishing what could be a much richer pastoral model of women and men, lay and cleric, working together as equals in shared ministry.

The permanent diaconate adds nothing to such models, but creates an extra layer of hierarchy and appropriates to the clerical state services that emanate from our baptismal vocation, relegating lay women (and men) once again to passive roles, expected only to pay, pray and obey.

ANN SMITH

MILTON KEYNES

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

 

Delighted to find this on the Ordinands’ Association blog.

Ordinands

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For many clergy, being ordained “deacon” is simply an important step on the way to being ordained “priest” (or “presbyter”) about a year into their curacy.

But some people are called to the ministry of the “Distinctive Deaconate”, without any intention that they be ordained to the priesthood or serve as incumbent in a church in the future.
This is appropriate in a whole variety of circumstances, including for women whose theological convictions mean they would not want to be ordained priest or serve as a vicar.

Distinctive Deacons frequently have a key role in teaching, leadership and pastoral care in their churches.

The process and criteria for discerning Distinctive Deacons’ vocations are broadly similar to those used for potential incumbents, and their training is funded and provided on the same basis.

Ian McIntosh, Head of Formation for the Church of England, writes:

Amongst many different types of ministry which…

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Deacons from many different countries view this blog.  If you have a degree, might you be interested in following up this opportunity for postgraduate study at King’s College, London?

Scholarships available to enable Anglicans from the developing world to study at King’s College, London

Posted on: March 8, 2017 3:10 PM

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King’s College London Theological Trust, of which the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion,  Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon has just become a trustee, awards a scholarship each year to a student from overseas who has been accepted to study in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.  There are no geographical limitations but the Trustees aim to award the scholarship to a student who is unable to obtain an education at this level in their own country and whose own financial situation would make study in London difficult.   On completion of their studies, overseas scholars are expected to return home to make a significant contribution to the religious life of their country through the medium of one of the Christian denominations.

Archbishop Josiah said “This is a wonderful opportunity for talented men and women from throughout the Communion to study at an outstanding institution and then return to their own country perhaps as a theological educator. I hope that bishops will identify suitable individuals and encourage them to apply for a place at King’s and for a scholarship and be willing to supply supportive references”

One of the best known alumni of King’s College, London is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was a student there from 1962 to 1966 during which time he gained a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

The scholarship which is open to postgraduate students meets the full cost of fees and provides a maintenance grant at a rate which the Trustees aim to keep broadly comparable with those provided by the British Academy and Research Councils.  Scholarships are awarded for one year in the first instance but may be renewed subject to satisfactory academic progress.

The Rev Dr Giles Legood, the Chair of the trustees of the Theological Trust said “We would welcome more applications for this scholarship from around the Communion.  This is a great opportunity which we wish to make better known.”

Application packs and more information about the Overseas Scholarship can be downloaded.

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