Changing Times

Jane KenchingtonMany, many years ago I remember reading the phrase, “if you don’t change, you’ll die.” And yet, human beings don’t like change – we often rebel against it. we prefer to stay in our comfort zones even though those zones may not truly lead to our flourishing.

Change is dominating my mind at the moment as we prepare to leave the Sodbury Vale Benefice and move to Solihull. Boxes need to be packed; items long out of use need to be given away; and we are preparing to make the journey from the familiarity of our life here in South Gloucestershire and face the largely unknown future in an unfamiliar place.

At times like this, I often look back over my life and reflect on God’s hand on it. Ever since my ordination in Gloucester cathedral on 1 July 1990, I have found myself in pioneering roles – the first woman to serve a curacy in Winchcombe, the first woman to cause the diocese to learn how to deal with a maternity leave; the first woman to serve on Bishop’s Staff; the first woman incumbent in the Sodbury Vale Benefice. St Alphege’s Parish Church in Solihull, where I am going, has never had a female Rector in its history. It’s somewhat ironic, having worked hard to see women admitted to all three orders of ministry in the church, that just at the very moment, this diocese looks forward it its first female bishop, I am leaving!

These “firsts” have created situations where people (including me) have had to cope with change and the effects of change. Often it hasn’t been easy. But it’s often been immensely life-giving. I am deeply grateful to all the people who I have encountered over the years who were prepared to embrace change and navigate it with me.

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Life is all about change – that’s an indisputable fact. But in all these changes that we face, God is always with us.

The Revd Canon Jane Kenchington, Area Dean of Wotton & Rector of the Sodbury Vale Benefice

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The Psychology of Mindfulness

It seems people are all-abuzz about mindfulness – especially if you’re in your 20s and 30s. After several conversations about how helpful it can be, I am now half-way through an eight-week programme introducing me to the fundamentals. And it is impressive. I am learning to unpick the tangle of my physical, emotional and mental responses to everyday life. I am aware, for example, of how a twinge in my hip leads to sad feelings about getting old – with my mind jumping within seconds to worry about how my children will cope when I die. So I now try to accept that twinge for what it is … a twinge!

But why do we find it so hard to be present in the moment? Perhaps it’s decades of a culture which privileges strategic thinking: no individual, church or organisation is complete without a five-year plan. Or perhaps it’s the hyper-connectivity of the internet that teaches our minds to leapfrog about between the past and future? Certainly, the psychology of mindfulness really works. I am already more at ease with myself and the world around me.

But, in the programme I’m following, I’m left wondering where God is. I’ve decided to complete the eight weeks before puzzling this one out. I suspect it will take me back to the age-old wisdom of Christian mystics. To “capax Dei” – making the space for God at the centre of our lives (rather than our own preoccupations). To unconditional faith in Christ. To resting in “God-fulness”.

The Revd Poppy Hughes, Rector of the Benefice of Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne and the Benefice of Avening with Cherington

Battling the demons

On June 5, something very unusual happened. The satirical BBC panel show “Have I Got News For You” paid tribute to a politician rather than ridiculing one. He was of course Charles Kennedy, once leader of the Liberal Democrats, who had died tragically too young earlier that week. He was that rare thing – a politician admired by all on the political spectrum. He was respected not only for his party leadership, but also for his vociferous opposition to both the Iraq war and the coalition with the Conservatives (and hindsight has proved him right on both accounts).

His sad death has also caused me to reflect on the nature of addiction. Here was a man reaching the top of his profession and in a position of great influence in our national life. This is hardly the stereotypical image we have of an addict, yet he fought alcoholism for much of his life and it played a contributory role in his death. Despite the support and love he had from many, unfortunately he was not able to beat those demons.

So how do we approach those with addiction (whether seen or unseen)? Do we treat them with despair or with hope? As walking disaster areas or as those with great potential? For those of us who call ourselves Christian, it should be with love, not judgement, seeing beyond the addiction to the human being beneath. Because like Charles Kennedy, who knows what they might accomplish if given the chance?

The Revd Rosie Woodall, Vicar of Bisley, Chalford, France Lynch and Oakridge and Bussage with Eastcombe.

British Values?

The headteacher said: “We’ve got to do assemblies on British Values – can you do one for us?  We’ve done Churchill and Wellington, but seem to have left out Shakespeare.” Well, I wasn’t sure that those three really were ‘British Values’ however you define them, but I also wasn’t sure what a British Value was anyway!  It seemed I wasn’t alone – the staff had thought that passing the problem onto the vicar might solve their inability to work out what we were supposed to be celebrating and promoting. Pity the government hadn’t thought of that one.

Perhaps standing in queues is a British Value, or always apologising even when it clearly isn’t your fault? Anyway, what primary age children have a well developed sense of is when something is fair or not. You’ll soon be told “Sir, that’s not fair!” if you transgress.

The whole sorry affair of FIFA and Sepp Blatter is an illustration of lack of being fair worked out at international level. There is no doubt that FIFA under Blatter’s presidency enabled major developments in access to sport in Africa and India to my knowledge, and probably other areas as well.  European and British criticism does not play well given the undeniable level of corruption present in some areas of the game close to home.  Yet the level of alleged bribery, sweeteners and excessive hospitality could have provided twice the resources delivered.

The reason why corruption and bribery is not fair is because it is always the poor, the marginalised and those with no voice who end up without. If being fair is a British Value then we ought to export it more. The Old Testament prophets will be cheering us on.

The Revd Canon Dr Mike Parsons, Priest-in-Charge, St Oswald Coney Hill with St Aldate