Life, the Faith, and Everything 1st June

Monday celebrated my mother-in-law’s 84th birthday with lunch at her bungalow in Shropshire. Her best friend, Connie, said she had read A British Crash and enjoyed it. ‘For those who give it some attention, there are some good messages there.’ Connie is 86, and a walking wonder having come through various illnesses including recurring cancer. She lives in a small room in her daughter’s house, in a tiny hamlet, in remote Shropshire. One of the greatest adventures of her life was going to Cambridge last year for a weekend. How can we encourage more 80 something year olds to read ABC?

Tuesday met with a bereaved daughter who wanted to talk to me apart from her 4 sisters and brother. ‘Please will you mention Dad at the funeral?’ she asked with tear-filled eyes. Dad went off years ago with his brother’s wife. One daughter refuses to have anything to do with him. I said I would see what I could do for Thursday. Good long time listening and praying.

To Rainbow Cottage for a break and to meet my friend Eric. We set up his new gas barbeque / portable kitchen outside for it to be pitted with rain. The sky westwards had a couple of grey clouds, streaking to the earth, one of which was exactly downwind. We both prayed / told the cloud to move to one side. I’m not sure still what I think about praying for weather. It certainly can’t do any harm, and sometimes seems to make a difference. The cloud passed just North of us, smattering us very lightly and briefly. The rest of the evening was gloriously sunny. Eric had just had a weekend at RC with friends. They had an informal communion on Saturday night which he said was the best he had ever been part of. It was deemed ‘phenomenal’ by one participant, an assistant pastor in a largish church. Eric thought it was largely due to the special atmosphere of Rainbow Cottage.

Wednesday planning meeting for ‘Inspire’ the Bilston monthly informal service. Praying before, I had had a sense of people dancing at the front, a weaving folk dancy dance. Jane said she had looked at the readings for that weekend and, for want of anything else, had put ‘From Weeping to Dancing’ as the theme. But space is limited and we are not choreographers…

Thursday early at the PC to finish the funeral address and prayers. The woman had been alcoholic but gave up the booze a few years ago after a car accident. She had said she wanted no fuss – no service, but most of her family wanted more than that. I thought Jesus said to read the Lost Sheep and celebrate her coming back to her family. Thanking God for various stages in her life, I included a brief mention of the time with her first husband. No angry coughs or dagger looks. Warm thanks afterwards from a couple of people. Hope most of the family were OK with it.

Friday to Ealing for an informal visit for an Associate Vicar job for which I have been short listed – to my surprise and delight. Met with Nicholas Henderson the Vicar vicar who seemed strangely familiar. In some ways he reminded me of James Makepeace with whom I worked in Wolverhampton. When he said he knew people in Uganda, it slowly dawned on me. Nicholas was elected a bishop in Malawi a couple of years ago but was blocked because he was deemed too liberal. The church seems to be thriving, not ready for the Sunday afternoon all age worship I proposed in my application. If I was on their panel, I would not have short listed me. Interview Saturday next week.

Saturday at my mother’s, giving her Mongolian carers a day off. Mused on Ecclesiastes, which I am reading slowly with Jeff Lucas through his Life Every Day notes. 3 times Solomon says that the greatest satisfaction, in a world without ultimate meaning, is finding enjoyment in work. He had seriously tried wine, women, song, fame, and fortune so knew what he was talking about.

Sunday visited a London church advertising for the second time for a Priest. The woman leading said that the priest’s car had broken down so he couldn’t come. (Don’t they have taxis in London?) At the peace I introduced myself as a priest, but she, rightly, said she didn’t know me. She gave out last week’s wafers, split into tiny pieces, instead. Beautiful building, masses of lovely candles. About 40 people, mostly West Indian. The hymns were not sung with gusto, too high brow for the people. The pews had been rearranged to fill the space and accommodate fewer people. With only a few more attending the church would feel pretty full. Generally too staunchly Anglo Catholic for me, more interested in their ‘modern’ tradition than in growth.

Sunday evening I told the Evensong congregation in Bilston about a remarkable Saturday in Uganda, when two women had cackled and hooted with Holy Spirit laughter, with occasional burst of English, which they had never learnt. Not that I was telling them to imitate this example in the midst of Evensong, just not assume that the Holy Spirit always flows gently. Despite the popular modern song, being aware of the fiery presence of the Lord doesn’t always lead us to be still – sometimes the opposite, as at Pentecost. Every week we pray for ‘rest and quietness’ in this life. Is this hankering after peace and quiet idolatrous? 

My friend Fred Branfman, who, years ago, alerted the US to the bombing of Laos being carried out in their name, wrote with his latest article about the need to replace General Petraeus, the US commander in the Middle East. Petraeus was the ‘surge in Iraq’ man, now leading the surge in Afghanistan. Fred considers the main effect to have pushed the Taliban into Pakistan, to disastrous effect. Reminded me to write to my MP again about the bloody mess in Afghanistan.

Borders Birmingham have moved my book signing to August 1st. May A British Crash start moving in its home town!

Roger Harper

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