The Church of the Good Shepherd

Here is the tiniest flavour of the beauty we are seeing…this is Lake Tekapo, with the ‘flour’ ie glacier dust, which causes the wildly lovely turquoise colour in the water. This is the ACTUAL colour: though when you see an enormous stretch of water as bright as this is, surrounded by mountains, it is so far beyond any adequate words to describe.

The little Church of the Good Shepherd (and remember this is the high country where young men run up mountains in caring for the Merinos which thrive on the coarse tussocky grass, so the Church’s dedication has wonderful resonances) stands on the edge of the Lake, and the full glory of God’s creation is displayed through the window above the altar.

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January 22-26 In Mckenzie Country

Touchdown in Christchurch! Queues to enter customs, reclaim our suitcase, then hotfoot to buy duty free Gin for our hosts, and a NZ ‘spark’ mobile phone. Taxi to collect our borrowed car: and the first clue of how generous New Zealanders are – we were complete strangers but the householder led us out to Rolleston on the Timaru road, so we should not get lost. The speed limit is a maximum of 70mph on every road: reduced to 30-40 near towns, so speeding is not an option.

A 3-hour drive lay ahead …Ashburton, Geraldine, Fairlie…climbing steadily into Mackenzie Country, the high hills becoming mountains – dry and golden-beige – scattered trees, some singletons, planted in rows as windbreaks. ‘Beautiful Valley’ said the map, and bucketing over a hill we descended into a golden haze punctuated by cypresses and tall poplars.

Climbing again, on wonderfully smooth roads marked with arrows and speeds for corners, and occasional prominent notices showing the Fire Risk – an arrow pointing to ‘High Risk’ due to the prolonged drought, we came through small towns, with houses along a Main Street, and occasional ‘gift shop’ or more rarely ‘accommodation’ signs displayed on front porches. Along the State Highway were infrequent signs like ‘Mossburn Road – no exit’ leading to a sheep station; the distances between habitations were startling to our eyes.
Exhausted, and seriously jet-lagged, we stopped at a Farm Shop for a pot of tea, and alerting our host that we were still well behind schedule, likely to be late for dinner.
And then came the most startling sight – beyond our imagining – Lake Tekapo. The colour of turquoise, yet somehow both milky and brilliant; as we discovered, the grinding action of glaciers deposits a fine dust into the waters, called ‘flour’, which causes this extraordinary colour.
‘Turn right after the Lake’ said our instructions, ‘and after 14 kms there is a sentry-box beside the road, turn onto the track that leads to Irishman Creek’. … In our rear view mirror we could see the dust-cloud hanging over the long, unmetalled road, the ochre colour of the surrounding dry ground, and ahead lay green trees – and the Station itself where our host and (unknown to us) other guests had waited dinner until we arrived.

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January 20-22 Flying high!

Could you imagine a place where so many restless people are hurrying to be somewhere else?
London Heathrow, Terminal 2, is just this place. But the degree of automation has become impressive. We inserted our flattened passports into a scanner, which knew where we were going, our flight number and then allocated us seats and boarding passes!
One large case was sent away, to reappear in Christchurch New Zealand, and our small spotty cases – containing every crucial paper, pill, nightclothes and etc., – stayed to hand.

We had elected to travel by National Express, which meant leaving home at 8.0 am and reaching Heathrow at 11.0 am. Our flight was not until 10.44 pm!The waiting was almost silent: the only announcements are for flights closing, and all information is on the displays. We found a Mexican lunch, and an (early) Italian supper!

The Singapore Airlines 777-300 – with triple banks of 3 seats – seats 300 people, an unimaginable number on such a plane whose wings looked delicately elongated against the evening sky…
We were given a delicious supper, and then allowed to sleep right through until breakfast was served just before Singapore…with the smoothest landing ever.
Breakfast? By then it was evening in Singapore, hot, crowded, and with streams of people hurrying along the Terminal’s shopping ‘boulevards’.
Our onward flight, (Singapore to Christchurch aboard a 777-200) re-programmed to depart an hour later, was delayed to allow passengers from Vietnam to join..but cabin lights glowed brightly enough to prevent sleep that night, and pre-breakfast orange juice came 2 hours before we ate…
And then, suddenly, we were descending into Christchurch – and the Great Adventure was about to begin.

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From grey skies to a bright blue yonder

Something still remains hugely exciting about flying to another country: and doubly so, to fly to New Zealand..terra incognita!
The huge, crinkly-paper map spread over the dining-room table, the fascination of spotting strange place names, the enormous spaces between them where nothing is marked… Paper lists, emails, and the major blessing of advice from kind friends who have been before, on where to go, and what not – absolutely not – to miss seeing, or doing, or eating!
Planning ahead, a trip involving thousands of miles and numerous visits is a nervous business in the doing. Flights booked 5 months ahead; school-friends inviting us to stay, even offering to lend us a car!
Dates are another thing: some prefer to play it all by ear, others feel more relaxed when the bookings are firm – and online, it becomes clear that the cheaper rooms in the touristy hot-spots are already booked out. And, with no real idea of what happens in different towns …how many days do you stay in any one place? What actual driving distance/time is it from one visit to another?
And so it is that, close to departure, the final bookings were just being made, confirmations anxiously awaited, and numerous prayers sent up that all will be well.
But – packed we are, ready for 6 weeks of travel (and including lots of presents) – and with splendidly spotty, new hand luggage!

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A summer of infinite delights

Who could ever have guessed last Spring, when the papers were full of criticism at the supposed nightmare which the 2012 Olympics were about to be – who could possibly have imagined this September!
Passengers DID get through Heathrow’s Passport Control, London’s traffic and public transport DIDN’T grind to a halt, the wonderful Forces DID step in when G4S failed to train enough security people, enough people DID manage to buy seats for events, everything WAS ready.
Each day (on multi-channels of BBC TV) we looked out through the BBC studio windows onto the Olympic Stadium, the Velodrome, the swimming Stadium – and saw how beautiful each building was…saw the crowds in their holiday mood being ushered by the ‘Games Makers’ across numerous new bridges, the open spaces, towards the venues.

But far more than simply ‘being ready’ – everything was transformingly joyful.

I think we’d lost sight of our ability to be happy. Before the Olympics, we believed the endless media moan about a broken Britain. We accepted an image of fearsome rioters, gangs, and a seemingly unbridgeable gap between those who have, and those who want.
Then – the lights were switched on, and we saw through a haze of amazement, 70,000 people filling the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony… thousands of athletes parading with their country’s flag, proud and excited to be taking part… and when each carefully cradled bronze shape was handed over, we saw them assembled into a wide-spreading flower-head, taking fire from the young athletes’ Olympic Torches, which rose and gathered until it became a great feast of light – the Olympic Cauldron.
Each day, at every heat and Final, we watched enormous crowds on heir feet in the Stadium, the Velodrome, the swimming Stadium, roaring their encouragement, support – love, even – for the athletes. The noise, they said later, which propelled them along the track, through the water, over the hurdles – and brought them home to victory.
Tears: smiles: pure unshadowed joy. Shared by the commentators; shared by us, all over the country.
And we learned to see: people we’d never chosen to notice; people who’d had their share of rudeness, mockery, being pushed out of the way – and suddenly they were Paralympians. If we began with an embarrassed anxiety we might watch like voyeurs, we got over it – the people we learnt to see, were heroes, world-record breakers, and their differences were part of the awe and part of our shared joy at achievements we’d never thought possible.

It is an extraordinary, almost incredible, feat to transform a nation’s negative image of itself into something absolutely the opposite – not ‘broken’ but ‘can-do’; not ‘failures’ but ‘Olympians’; not ‘disabled’ but ‘Paralympians’.
As Princess Anne’s speech affirmed: “everyone who took part in the Olympics and Paralympics, whether or not you won a medal, you are all Olympians now!” And somehow we have seen ourselves as Olympians, too, in the radiance of it all…as if, somehow, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Rebecca Adlington, Nicola Adams, David Weir, Greg Rutherford, Ellie Simmonds and all the others are the generous icing on the UK cake.

Now as the Olympic athletes’ glorious parade has passed through London, through the endless crowd of a million cheering people, as they’ve waved and thanked us as we thank them – now we are a different people.

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Seeking Gold


Beyond Lent, the intense emotions aroused are slowly being re-focussed into a new awareness that pervades every part of life… intensity dissipated as life returns: to live at such a height is unsustainable. Who, I find myself wondering, has tried to live at this fine intersection of Crucifixion and Resurrection – and was it ever attempted, even by the mystics?

Something of the fading shimmer will remain – Moses’ face slowly lost its unviewable intensity, yet the memory of that shimmering gold has permeated all life. We move to a rhythm that takes us ever closer to what we seek.

‘Seeking Gold’ timelessly, ancient footsteps pressed down into hard ground and the myriad feet marks superimposed, as the multitude follow.. nameless.

A pilgrimage of grace. And re-creating this sense of joy and journey, leads to pilgrimage – a Pilgrimage Trail for the 2012 Olympics. A suggestion taken up, a warm affirmation, and a charge to see this come into being. Who could expect that being invited to a Diocesan Committee might involve any more than a brief moment to voice an idea? Or that nearly 2 hours could be given to hearing the suggestion, seeing the Brochure, forming a plan: and commissioning it!

Expectations of 60,000 visitors each day of the Olympics, coming to Weymouth, must mean some will look for a day out – and finding our Brochure, head for the little churches on the trail. Each church has its own Pilgrim Badge – and children collecting one from each of the churches will qualify for a ‘Super-Gold’ badge, saying “Seek and you shall find GOLD”

So there comes a visit to each of the clergy and each of the ten churches – 400 miles of linked visits – sharing the excitement, asking for volunteers to welcome Pilgrims, a place to display leaflets offering simple/profound insights into matters of faith, and ones offering a gentle tour round the church with a prayer attached to each stopping point. Then, at the church, seeing for myself the approach, accessibility, loos, parking, and how welcoming it actually appears to the new eye…

Some things to draw gently into attention: the pile of unused books occupying a pew, the old notices wavering on the board – how few churches display any contact details for enquirers.

And then… the moments of sheer delight: entering a light-filled church, where there is a palpable sense of welcome, with a comfortable chair in a sunny corner [replacing two pews] and within touch of a bookshelf, a picture displayed for meditation.

‘How shall we reach them?’ constant refrain of those who want others to join them in the pews…yet it is the pilgrimage that is the meeting point, the accompanying, the hospitality of love. Conformity is for the insecure, but for the questioner here is an open space without answers but with grace to grow.

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Shalom at Sarum



Perhaps it is better when there are no expectations, no knowledge… allowing space for the Holy Spirit to filter through the ‘static’ of our days, and fill us with presence.

Arriving beneath the Cathedral’s great soaring height, entering the vast stone space, struck again at how vibrant that space is – not cold, not empty, but alive – prayer and presence have filled it to overflowing, there is an awareness that even in the dark this place would hum – and shimmer.

We were early; queued at the long trestles lining the bitter-windy North porch, finding friends among the clergy in attendance. Booklet [the service] and a pack of gifts [fridge magnet, book mark, information] and then we were inside the light.

The great square font, lipped at the corners where light glistens on a ceaseless waterfall, the still surface as smooth as marble…

and we pass and re-pass, finding the space to gather at the West End, in a jumble of arrivals: startled at how few are here – until in time the doors cascade arrivals, and we were 300 – Shalom.

Standing waiting, the Bishop is caught in time and light – his white clothing and white mitre far from the Prince Bishops once familiar here. Gone too the great golden glitter of a Bishop’s crook – his is simple and plain, carved from horn, the same quality of support and usage of any working shepherd’s.

Singing – too fast to draw breath – we are swept into purpose: led beyond the Font [trailing our fingers to leave behind the burdens we brought here] and counted out in tens to spend the morning exploring.

Alison Morgan – she of the “Wild Gospel” – speaks of healing, prayer, miracles, and in the same matter-of-fact voice we so rarely use for faith. Defines the separation between ‘Physical’, ‘Inner’ and ‘Spiritual’ healing: where are we heading?

Glancing round from our unexamined group of strangers to see who is nearby, there is the Bishop gently part of a group: Inner Healing – what a wonderful discussion that must have been.

Ours becomes intent: introductions [leaning well back on seats]; examples of inner healing [one by one, leaning forward, involved, trusting, open]. Coincidence of suffering: a life affected now by forgiveness.

So shall we be healed: “I am the God who heals you” – “YOU” – that is a surprise…how completely personal.

And we form a long pathway, each walking in turn under the arched hands, being prayed for, and in our turn standing to pray for others passing under our own raised arms. The sense of prayer received, of immediate blessing, of the love …of God …transmitted through one another.

The Eucharist – long lines of shimmering silver chalices: lines of servers in white with scarlet scarves. The Bishop :: imagined, now real, of humility and authority.

Martin Cavender – lawyer turned healer – speaking compellingly of God.”I am the God who heals you”

And at the end, we move forward for anointing, for prayer, for the grace to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and find a new pattern, a new ordinariness – transformed and changed and made whole.

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finding a way through Lent, begins again

Smoky marks form a cross on my forehead, and echo the crusted cross above the tiny church where I received them.

Tiny church – the smallest in England – rests among sheep on a green slope; an almost imperceptible stream at the field’s boundary, following a distant track to Ebbesbourne.

Enormous sums have been raised to preserve this small stone building, rebuild its roof, plaster its stonework, damp-proof floors, and place a ribbon of heaters around the cold walls.

Enshrining memories of times gone into mist, ever a small community edging along a narrow valley, rural and distant.

..and the ashes link us: a light scatter of history … touches and passes, and a smudge remains to mark the skin.

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Snow business like …snow business

Snow falling like slow rain… plump pigeons perched in the tall branches of empty trees … and all the time, Christmas creeping closer with a rustle of paper and shimmering tinsel.

It could be a cold old journey even to Sussex, and the chance of a greater snowfall before then: holding on to a frozen chicken ‘just in case’.

Heathrow – having imported 2 snow-ploughs from Zurich at untold expense – cannot move any passenger aircraft away from their parking bays, because the wheels have frozen, and the ice-clearing machinery cannot deal with that.

So quantities of people, despite all the advice on tv, papers, radio, set off for their Far-Eastern holidays – and find the motorways are solid and unmoving, with jack-knifed lorries and stuck cars; that there are long, stationery queues leading to the airport carparks; and that they then sit for hours on hard seats, waiting for news of another delayed flight.

Then they become cross with everyone in authority. The airline staff are abused; the airport authority is blamed for not causing aircraft to take off – even in freezing fog, and blizard conditions – and the government is blamed for not being prepared for so severe a winter. Ummm… anyone else to blame? like the people who leave home in these conditions, when they’ve been asked not to travel unless it is strictly necessary?

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‘First Sight’ by Philip Larkin

‘First Sight’ by Philip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.                       Philip Larkin

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