Why do bad things happen?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 23rd April 2013
This question is probably as old as religion itself. It’s a perpetual stumbling block for some, and for many more it becomes a real issue at given moments of tragedy. There are probably as many answers to the question as there are people who care to engage in theological dialogue – so please don’t expect a definitive answer in this short article…….
Last Monday we saw sporting triumph turn to terror as explosions struck at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There were fatalities, and over 150 casualties, the youngest one being only 8 years old. For some, it makes it worse that it happened at a positive time – many people who were happy, excited, proud, on Monday afternoon will have woken on Tuesday with their lives being or feeling very different – through shock; grieving; life-changing injuries; to name but a few sad possibilities. Since then, of course, we’ve seen the aftermath of this event play out on our TV screens.
The human spirit seems polarised when acts of disaster, terror or evil occur. Some match hate with hate. Some take hate and gently overpower it with love. Some seem almost super-human in being able to forgive straightaway - such as Gordon Wilson who said “I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge” after his daughter was killed in an IRA bombing in 1987. When bad things happen, it is reactions like Gordon’s and the various immediate acts of kindness which lift the mood. For instance, it was heart-warming to read reports of marathon runners in Boston continuing over the finish line to run another 2 miles to the nearest hospital to give blood, or spectators offering mobile phones, clothes, and other items to tired, cold or worried runners. Some residents of Boston even opened their homes to accommodate people who couldn’t get back to their accommodation. And, of course, we also saw bystanders and members of the emergency services rushing to give vital help without thought of their own safety. We cling to hope when bad things happen, and often it is these glimmers of goodness - of sacrificial love, of people working together - that give us that hope. They show us that God is alive in even the darkest situations. These overwhelming acts of kindness are glimpses of the goodness of God in His creation.
But, of course, they don’t answer the question of why these bad things happen in the first place...... I can say that God certainly doesn’t cause them to happen - but nor, it seems, does he prevent them. Most bad things which happen do so because God gives a radical freedom to everyone. It’s called freewill. We all have it. We are all people who make our decisions and actions. We are not pre-programmed robots, nor puppets on a string. As a result, I guess it could be argued that God allows bad things to happen - and when they happen, God loves us and grieves with us in our pain.
Harold Kushner tried to tackle this vexed question in a book called “When bad things happen to good people” In another of his books he said, “Good people will do good things, lots of them, because they are good people. They will do bad things because they are human.” This isn’t a definitive answer to the question of why bad things happen, but to paraphrase the philosopher and priest, Teilhard de Chardin, ‘questions of why bad things happen to good people soon change into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.’
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is a slightly amended/extended version of a 'Pause for Thought' originally written for The Cleethorpes Chronicle (18 April 2013 edition). Since then, I've seen two possibly helpful articles which you might want to read too:-
Responding to Boston With Holy Anger by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/responding-to-boston-anger_b_3092758.html
Chaplains in Great Demand in Aftermath of Boston Marathon Bombing by G Jeffery MacDonald www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/chaplains-in-great-demand-in-aftermath-of-boston-marathon-bombing_n_3119425.html
The Boss's Son
Posted by Mary Vickers on 28th March 2013
Rumour had been spreading through the factory for weeks. Their multi-millionaire owner was to send his son on a “surprise” visit. Management kept their eyes open for flash sports cars in the car park and well-dressed visitors in reception; nobody noticed the long-haired chap in overalls who arrived every day on an old bike and slipped in through the staff entrance.
One morning, the manager received a phone call, and stood up as he heard the owner’s voice on the other end. “Sir? What an unexpected honour! ….. What’s that? ….. You want to speak to your son? I, er, don’t think he’s….. Yes, of course, I’ll tell him straightaway and get him to ring you back.”
Senior staff raced through the factory, searching, for the boss’s son. Where could he be? No-one has seen him arrive. They all totally ignored the young man in overalls, mopping the floor. Well, except for the manager that is - he spotted the young man briefly, side-stepping the bucket on his way to put out an urgent call over the tannoy. Within minutes of the announcement, the cleaner was shown into his office.
“You’re the boss’s son?” the manager cried in disbelief. “What were you doing mopping the floor?”
The reply came with a smile. “It needed cleaning........"
On Palm Sunday, the Son of God rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, like the boss’s son who arrived on a bike, showing solidarity with his workers.
On Maundy Thursday we remember how another boss’s son undertook a chore generally associated with the humblest member of staff. It was a slave’s task to wash the feet of visitors arriving for a meal. Yet at the Last Supper, Jesus donned his overalls, tied a towel around his waist, and washed his disciples’ feet.
Like the factory manager, we might be shocked that Jesus should so demean himself. Presumably the young man would explain to the factory manager that his father wanted him to learn all aspects of the business, and that the only way to understand the workforce was to share their labour, from the bottom up. Although he would one day inherit the factory, he wanted to know what it was like to be a worker.
Like the factory manager, we might be angry, offended, guilty or embarrassed or angry at the young man’s suggestion that the floor was dirty; but the factory floor needed cleaning, so the boss’s son cleaned it.
So much in such a simple action.....
Actions really do speak louder than words.....
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday shows us vividly that Jesus is one of us.
On Good Friday, Jesus dies for us.
And on Easter Day, he will rise again, for us.
Actions really do speak louder than words!
Thank you to Redemptorist Publications for the original idea - used and adapted with permission
Love is all around
Posted by Mary Vickers on 14th February 2013
In shops for the last few weeks, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, it’s seemed like, in the song made famous by both the Troggs and Wet Wet Wet, “Love is all around”.
The origins of Valentine’s Day are somewhat obscure. Through the years, several men named Valentine have been recognized as martyred saints by the church, and one of them was buried near Rome on 14 February. He was in prison for marrying Christian couples at a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying and, the night before his death, legend says he sent a note to a girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine”. Whether this is true or not, the story continues to be told, but it was only in 1382 that English author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem that popularized the connection between St. Valentine and romantic love.
It tends to be one of those days that you either love or hate, depending on what’s happening (or not happening!) in your personal life. I well remember feeling left out at school, when lots of girls were boasting about how many Valentine’s cards they’d had. And this year I know some recently bereaved people who’re dreading today. So, as with many major festivals, it’s not always as easy as it seems, especially when it feels like ‘Love really isn’t all around’.
I recently heard of a creative way that one school got around the Valentine’s Day boasting and rivalry. Pupils were encouraged to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom they didn’t really care for, those whom were judged to be ‘weird’, as well as those that might be considered ‘enemies’ in the playground and those who didn’t reciprocate. Although not a celebration of exclusive, romantic love, this kind of valentine exchange more reflects the kind of ‘Love that really is all around’ than we might at first imagine.
It’s good to be reminded to express our love to those who’re special to us. So, if Valentine’s Day encourages couples to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great. Let’s face it, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often! But real love shouldn’t just be shared with those who love us back. We all need to learn to love, and to show love, to those who don’t reciprocate, including those we find it hard to cope with. All of us have such people in our lives, at work, in the community we live in, in the streets we walk around, perhaps even in our families. Our human duty, and our calling if we’re people of faith, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful people. As the song says ‘Come on and let it show’.
And if you feel unloved, please be assured that you’re not. There are people out there who love you. And God loves you too - with the kind of love that never ends. Perhaps that’s what the song is about: "There be no end, ‘Cause on my love, You can depend".....
Spare a thought for the staff.......
Posted by Mary Vickers on 15th January 2013
Today I visited the HMV store in Grimsby's Freshney Place to see how staff members were coping with the news that the company had gone into administration this morning. Last week, I visited the Jessops store on Victoria St in Grimsby, with a similar purpose. When I was in there, the staff said they new nothing of timetables etc but 2 days later the store had already shut its shutters very firmly. In recent months, I’ve also visited Clintons Cards, Julian Graves, and Tie Rack stores in Freshney Place (the latter being a local closure rather than a national one). If you add Comet and Staples to this list, you get a depressing picture of the state of the UK’s high streets - plus I begin to look a bit like an ‘ambulance chaser’, to use someone else’s phrase.
Whilst big questions need to be asked about our economy, each of these closures and many others have a very human story attached to them. Today’s copy of ‘The Times' newspaper featured a comment article under the title "Spare a thought for the staff at HMV". It was written by Scott Bryan, who was employed by Whittard of Chelsea when that company went into administration in 2008. He says in his comment article that “those few days were some of the worst days of my life”.
Given what’s happening on our High Streets, his piece is very timely. But it is also a sad reflection of the way we customers (yes, you & I) treat lots of people who serve us whether in the retail trade or in other 'service industries'. In my work, I’m chaplain to various types of retail business, as well as other sectors where 'the workers' interface with 'the public' and the stories told by Scott in his article are oh so true. I want to thank him for being brave enough to write them - but more than that I’d like the rest of us to pledge to try and be nicer to people who serve us, wherever and whoever they are - and in the current climate also to show some concern for the staff amidst our desire for a bargain……
Here’s a link to Scott’s article http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/retailing/article3658148.ece
Cribs making Christmas real
Posted by Mary Vickers on 17th December 2012
As Christmas gets closer, more and more decorations appear. One of the oldest kinds of decoration is a Crib scene. It was back in 1223, that St. Francis of Assisi created the world’s first Crib in an Italian cave. Unlike most of today’s crib scenes, the one St. Francis created had human beings and animals acting out the roles. Within 100 years, the tradition was spreading across the world. Nowadays, they can be found in many different situations and contexts, allthough most are now static rather than having real people.
Today, in an age where many moan about the commercialisation of Christmas, it’s perhaps interesting to note that St Francis created the first crib scene in an attempt to move the emphasis of Christmas back onto the worship of Christ rather than on secular materialism and gift giving! As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun!
Last year, I visited Brussels in early December and the Cathedral there was hosting a display of crib scenes from around the world. There were 17 in all. The differences were fascinating. In an African one, all the figures were black. In the Japanese one, all were wearing kimonos. The Chinese one included lots of bamboo, and was the only one not to feature a baby. Instead, it had an open Bible in the manger, highlighting the belief that Christ is the living Word of God. In Cologne this year, they have a trail with more than 100 different types of crib - one of which is the ‘Peace Crib’ which sets the nativity scene within the bombed out remains of 1945 Cologne.
Cribs around the world use local characteristics to express the idea that Jesus was born just next door; born especially for the people who made them. This year, in North East Lincolnshire, we’ve got an interactive Advent Calendar going. Various businesses and organisations are hosting a display where they’ve depicted the Christmas story in a way that makes it special to them, or that illustrates the Christmas story in their context. Many of these have some sort of crib scene, or at least some of the crib figures in them. We started off with Mary & Joseph as rap stars, and since then have seen Mary and Joseph wearing 21st century expedition gear for their journey to Bethlehem; shepherds made out of gingerbread; shepherds clothed in grass; and a display highlighting the health & safety aspects of the nativity scene; to name but a few!
The picture above shows a scene I saw being built on Cleethorpes beach just before sunrise on 11th December. It was created by Julie, a local driftwood artist, whose business is called Drift Ashore. Although I’ve found all the images from our Advent Calendar wonderful in their creativity, I found standing in front of this crib scene a particularly moving spiritual experience. I’m not sure why - but I think it’s something to do with a story that has huge significance being illustrated with driftwood and other ‘rubbish’. Also, there was something both poignant and ironic in the fact that although this crib scene would be washed away by the tide some 8 hours later, the truths of the Christmas story that it illustrates have eternal relevance.
Seeing very different crib scenes, and reflecting on other people's interpretations, opens our eyes to new truths in the ‘old old’ story. If you were to use your own experience to express the idea that Jesus was born just for you, I wonder what you would include to make the story real for you?.......
Decision making - swimming in deep or rough water
Posted by Mary Vickers on 20th November 2012
I write this on a day when the Church of England will make a historic decision.
It will be historic whether the vote about Women Bishops gives a yes or a no. The people who wish or hope for either answer have a lot invested in it. Some will be angst-ridden whichever way the vote goes.
Reflecting on this today, I've found this Bible passage and reflection enlightening. I realised that it applies not just in this situation and decision but in any difficult decision-making scenario we find ourselves in, whether in our personal or work lives. I copy it here in its entirety, offering thanks for it to the writer and to Luther Seminary (2481 Como Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA - http://www.luthersem.edu/ ) with whom the copyright rests.
Psalm 93 (NRSV)
1 The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!
5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore.
"I grew up along the Atlantic seaboard. Vacations as a kid often included trips to the beach. Anyone who has swum in those waters has learned the language of undertow and rip tides. I don't know if my memory is of one or many incidents, but I can still feel the scrape of the sand on my back, taste the salt water coughing through my nose, and feel the sense of rising panic as I tried to find my way back to the surface.
The water imagery in today's psalm evokes those memories. As I was preparing for seminary, and studying the Bible with others in my home congregation, one person said to me, "You're swimming in some deep waters, there." And I replied, joking, "More like being pulled under!"
Sometimes God does that. Pulls us under, and we fear we are drowning, as God's Word forms us, shapes us and challenges us to grow. Then, we find ourselves thrown back onto the shores of the world, perhaps a little raw, but filled with fresh air and new life, reborn from the waters. "
God of the waves, you brought us forth from the waters, and you call us back to them. Help us to live into the daily death and rebirth that you give us through our baptisms, so that each day, a new self emerges to serve you and your kingdom. Amen.
Peace Lutheran Church, Washington, Mo.
Master of Divinity, 2010
Paralympic Legacy and Vision - towards the Kingdom of God?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 28th September 2012
Two and a half years ago, I was in Vancouver when the Paralympic flame arrived in the city. It coincided with a morning off from my duties as chaplain in the 2010 Winter Paralympic Athletes’ Village so I went off to the park where the celebration event was happening. What I saw and experienced has remained with me ever since, not just in the photos I took but the memories etched on my mind. For me it was a vision of what life might be like in what I call the kingdom of God and those without faith might call the proverbial ideal world.
The large crowds were very mixed indeed: young, old, and aged inbetween; women and men; plenty of family groups, loads of people ‘on their own’, and others with carers; able-bodied, those in wheelchairs, some using crutches or sticks, other with assistance dogs, and yet others with varying degrees of learning difficulty. All of us there for one thing: to see the Paralympic torch being lit from the ‘eternal flame’ and then to cheer on those who carried it around the large park we’d gathered at. The joyous thing that’s stayed with me is not just this huge mix of people, but that it didn’t matter in the slightest who you were, what condition you were in, or why you were there. What mattered was simply that you were there!
Perhaps it helped that Sam Sullivan, the then Mayor of Vancouver was himself a wheelchair user - a quadriplegic as a result of a skiing accident? I don't know how much that influenced the ways that Vancouver 2010 organised things. What I do know, though, is that the level of acceptance of everyone present at that event was something I’d not experienced to such an extent before. There were many echoes of this during London 2012. Various people have said “let’s have no talk of braveness nor of heroes, let’s just talk of the sport that Paralympians and spectators alike have come to enjoy”. Among his words at the awe-inspiring Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Stephen Hawking said “The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. … However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.” At the same ceremony, Beverly Knight performed the classic anthem of liberation "I am what I am".
We’ve heard much talk of legacy in connection with London 2012. This oughtn’t just be about getting more of us to participate in sport. What am amazing legacy if we all learnt to accept each other, warts and all. As Melanie Reid, who broke her neck and back in a riding accident said recently “the Paralympics express a way of saying ‘So what?’ to imperfection; of saying to the world that you don’t need a perfect face or body to succeed”. A Paralympian I heard describes herself not as disabled but ‘differently enabled’.
Nelson Mandela once said that sport has the power to change the world. That may or may not be true, but I do know that sport has lots of lessons to teach us about life. Wouldn’t be great if we learned some of these lessons? How much the world could change for the better if we really took them to heart, not just in the inspiration we can gain from differently-enabled sportspeople but also in allowing those lessons inspire us to work for a better world that takes our different abilities fully into account - by improving accessibility of buildings and public transport for instance, by fighting against discrimination. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, has as its first article: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." We who are Christians believe that the Bible has some very important things to say about human dignity and individuals living together in love, as well as about all human beings being equally valued by God. Whether people take their inspiration from the Bible or from elsewhere, an acceptance of others and ourselves as a community of equally valid human beings, and a desire to actively work together for the common good - and the bringing forth of the Kingdom of God - is the kind of legacy of London 2012 that I’d love to see.
[This is an extended version of a much shorter piece written for the 'First Person' column of the Grimsby Telegraph, 06 September 2012 edition]
Posted by Mary Vickers on 5th September 2012
5th September 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of 8 Palestinian terrorists breaking into the Munich Olympic Athletes’ Village, killing 2 Israeli athletes and taking 9 others hostage. In the end, all died, plus 5 of the terrorists. When the Games resumed, one of the first events was a basketball match in which the hot favourites, the USA, lost in a controversial way. One of the US players, although greatly saddened by the shock defeat, kept perspective. He said: “I went to my room and cried alone but every time I felt sorry for myself I thought of the Israelis who died. The thought of being in a helicopter with hands tied behind your back and a hand grenade rolling towards you, just couldn’t be compared with not getting a gold medal."
During my recent time working as Chaplaincy Team Leader at the London 2012 Olympic Rowing & Canoeing Athletes’ Village, I saw lots of rowers and paddlers very keen to win races. Some had more chance of winning than others, but there was no doubt they all wanted to win. But, as with that US basketball player, it was important to keep perspective and that’s important for each of us too. We may not be in the world of competitive sport, but we do live in a world where lots of demands are made on us, especially perhaps in our employment and in our engagement with the harsh realities of today’s economics. These demands can crowd out the important things of life.
The Biblical parable of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25 v31-46] makes it clear we’ll all have to account for how we’ve lived our lives. We won’t be asked what medals we’ve won, how successful our business is, or what our personal achievements are, but rather how we’ve served others and ministered to the needs of others.
Noureddine Morcelli, the Algerian athlete who won the 1500m gold medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, seemed to allude to this parable when he was interviewed after the race. He said: “Records and medals are wonderful but they are mere trinkets in reality. They cannot feed all the people in the world who’re hungry, clothe all those who’re cold, comfort all those who’re troubled, or bring peace to all those who’re at war. That is a race we must all run together.”
Snapshots of Sports Chaplaincy
Posted by Mary Vickers on 12th July 2012
For security reasons, I can't talk about what I'll actually be doing whilst serving as a chaplain at the Olympics. I will be able to tell stories afterwards though.....In the meantime, here's a very small snapshot of things I've been involved in whilst serving previously at a variety of major sports events:-
- Locating a Bible in a particular language because an athlete asked for it
- Being on duty in the Stadium Chapel in Berlin during the 2009 World Athletics Championships, waiting, in case athletes wished to talk to a chaplain or ask for pray after they’d competed - which several did, some because they wanted to give thanks for success and some because they wanted to talk or just sit quietly after not such a successful outing
- Finding Bibles for athletes from a country where they’re not easily accessible
- Helping team officials when one of their athletes was injured
- Providing pastoral support for teams when there’s been natural disasters back home
- Locating the nearest mosque for an African athlete who wanted to pray away from the event as Ramadan started during this event (as it will do during London 2012)
- Being on duty in the ‘religious services centre’, 'oasis of silence' or equivalent so that people can just pop in
- Keeping tabs on the progress of athletes connected with Loughborough University where I was Visiting Sports Chaplain from 2007–2010 (I may catch up with some of them again in London)
- Supporting various athletes and officials under stress
- Visiting the Polyclinic (day hospital) in the Athletes Village on a daily basis
- Praising God with someone who came to the chapel saying that he knew he’d never win a medal but as he’d swum a huge personal best he wanted to say thank to someone and God seemed an appropriate person to thank
- Praying with athletes before events. People often ask whether we pray for athletes to win. I personally don’t, because doing so is effectively to pray for someone else to lose. As a guideline, I’ll often pray for someone to give of their very best – after all, what more can anyone ask?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 25th June 2012
I recently came across this prayer in The Methodist Prayer Handbook and share it for use and reflection. It was written by David Clark and in this format is © 2011 Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes.
Lord Christ, we often forget that your ministry was shaped not only by prayer and quiet reflection but by many years spent at a carpenter’s bench.
It was on the shop floor, through the hectic world of trade and commerce, that you learnt the art of living and loving.
May we be aware that you are one of us and alongside us in our daily work.
Through every experience of our working lives, teach us how to live as fully and to love as deeply as you did.
Through us, and all who respond to your presence, may the world of work be transformed into your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Small steps.....big changes?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 1st February 2012
I'm not into camping. Witness the fact that I’ve only slept outside on 2 nights in my whole life so far. The first was 30 years ago when I was helping to lead the young people’s activities at a family ‘summer camp’. I was sleeping in the school’s boarding accommodation but when someone heard that I’d never been camping, they invited me to join them in their family tent. It wasn’t too bad until one of the children was violently sick in the night! The second time was with a group of army wives who were doing it as part of a bigger event in an attempt to understand what their husbands’ jobs entailed. My main memory is of the cold, and of waking up on a frosty morning, desperate for a drink, only to find that my water-bottle had frozen.
I’m guessing that my next memory of sleeping outside might be similar as I’m taking part in the YMCA’s ‘Sleep Easy’ event on 3rd February. Along with around 90 others, I’ll be sleeping outside overnight somewhere in Grimsby. ‘Sleep Easy’ is an annual event which raises money to help the homeless; as well as awareness of what it’s like for the thousands of people who sleep out, not because they choose but because they have no choice. One homeless person in Grimsby said to me when she heard what I’m doing “it won’t be nice you know”. Given my past experience, hopefully, nobody will be sick but I’m guessing that at this time of year I might experience another frozen water bottle. As the famous quote goes “You can never really know a person until you stand in their shoes and walk around in them for a while”. Although I’ve learned a lot in preparation for this event, perhaps it’s only by sleeping out that I’ll can begin to understand homelessness?
Last week, someone questioned what effect 1 person, or even all 90 of us, will really have. It’s always a valid question when a relatively small group of people want to take a stand against a huge problem. A saying that I first came across when visiting a church in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall came down is relevant here: “Many small people taking many small steps in many small places can change the story of the world”. If they could believe it so can we! I and 89 others sleeping out won’t ‘cure’ homelessness in this area, but hopefully it’ll be a small and positive step.
The same applies to any ‘battle’ we’re involved in, whether it be to change for better the area where we live; to change people’s lifestyles in order to protect the environment; to bring about social justice in our neighbourhood or country; to bring about more co-operation amongst different faiths of ethnic groups; to promote world peace; or any multitude of ‘good causes’. As Edmund Burke is reputed to have said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. So, however it is that we each want to change things for the better, let’s all have the courage to take that first little step and do something rather than nothing. It may seem a small step on its own but it could lead to big changes…..
(Adapted from 'Pause for Thought' originally written for 'Cleethorpes Chronicle' 02 Feb 2012 edition)
Posted by Mary Vickers on 17th November 2011
The Harvest Festival season is as good as over now. Did you get to any Harvest Festival services this year? There’s been loads taking place in a rural county such as ours. As a farmer’s daughter, I enjoy Harvest Festival time. It brings all sorts of memories - of good times living on three different farms, but also of the huge number of hours that my father put in, especially at harvest time. This year, it’s had added significance for me: It’s my 1st year of having an allotment, so I’ve been enjoying the produce that’s come from many hours spent last winter digging out an overgrown plot.
One thing’s long puzzled me though: Why, even in densely urban areas, do we go all rural when harvest time comes round? It’s always good to thank God for creation and to offer thanksgiving for those who toil on the land to bring us our food - and we don’t do it often enough - but why do we decorate churches with things like huge sheaves of corn that many of those attending have never seen for real? I know that in our area many do work in agriculture but there’s also a huge number of people living in urban areas, working in industry, who never see a farm from one month to the next. As an Industrial Chaplain, I work with a lot of people in this situation. One of the things I tried to encourage around this harvest time was that we thank God not just for his creation, but for people’s creativity; not just for what grows but for what’s made in the factories and industrial units we see around us nowadays.
At one Harvest Festival I was involved with this year, we tried to do that. Alongside fruit and veg, we had fuel oil, fish products, jam and needlework, CDs, paint & small white goods. Just a few things people’d made themselves, were made in the locality, or included chemicals produced nearby. It was good to thank God for these things too and for those who made them. I’ll always enjoy traditional Harvest Festivals but there’s also a place for broadening our harvest thanksgiving to include the harvest in all of God’s world not just part of it.
Posted by Mary Vickers on 3rd August 2011
I visited a night shift at a food factories again last night. This is the second one I’ve done - the first was about 5 weeks ago at a different food factory. The reaction was the same - after the shock of seeing a chaplain working “unsocial hours like we do” numerous people said “thank you for remembering us”. Several went on to say that they often feel excluded from all sorts of things due to them working permanent night-shifts - some of them for over 30 years!
When I first started visiting the food factories I go into on a regular basis, I thought that where they operate overnight they would do so on a rotating shift system, meaning that I’d see everyone in due course. But this has proved not to be the case. Hence, the addition of visits to night shifts - and soon also a weekend shift in the factory that has those.
I personally can’t imagine working permanent nights myself, but many I’ve met in the 2 visits so far seem to like it - either because it fits in with their particular lifestyle/domestic situation or because the money is better. But the other overriding opinion expressed last night was that they feel they often get forgotten.
Interestingly, in another workplace I visited yesterday morning, a group of people expressed a similar view of being forgotten and/or taken for granted. This was the hygiene team. They commented on the fact that no-one notices their work - they only got negative comments when their work wasn’t done properly. They felt strongly that people rarely notice when somewhere is spotlessly clean, only when it isn’t. A few also added that they felt their menial role often meant that they were treated as lower than other people - a sad but possibly true reflection……
Yesterday’s experiences reminded me to look for the forgotten people, the hidden people, the neglected people who make our lives go round, and to make sure I acknowledge them, thank them for their work, and value them as people. Hope you do the same!
Being alongside - offering hospitality
Posted by Mary Vickers on 24th June 2011
My role has chaplain has taken me to various places this week where I’ve encountered people who, humanly speaking, have no real hope in their lives at all. Some of their situations have seemed to them (and sometimes to me) to be both hopeless and helpless. As I’ve listened to and spoken with them, I’ve been struck by a huge sense of powerlessness on my behalf. However, I’ve carried on listening, as well as offering occasional words of ‘advice’ and/or reflection. It seemed in some sense the least I could do - in other senses the most I could do. And when I’ve got home, I’ve also prayed for them and their situations….
There was a lot of resonance with my experiences of this week when I realised that the gospel reading for this coming Sunday is Matthew 10 v40-42:
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. [NIV]
Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the gospel, and to demonstrate it through the same acts that Jesus himself had been doing. They were to go throughout Israel as vulnerable preachers. As part of that they were to offer and receive hospitality. As chaplains, and as disciples in today’s complex world, we’re called to do the same. We ‘simply’ bring who we are, what we have, where we are, to the people we encounter and the places we visit.
Each week a local minister and I gather to pray for each other, our respective ministries, and the communities of N E Lincolnshire. Yesterday, our worship ended rather aptly with this prayer that he’d written prior to learning what my week had been like:
A cup of cold water offered: and a welcome to the Living God
A minute or two given out of a busy day: and a word of comfort is found.
A half-formed prayer rushed out of our lips: and your kingdom is near.
In simplicity you come to us, and we pray for the grace to offer simple responses: a glass of water, some precious time, a listening ear, a word of prayer, even a smile.
I can only hope that somehow the time and attention given to the people I’ve met helps them to look forward with more hope…
"Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading." - Oswald Chambers
Why do we do what we do?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 23rd May 2011
I came across this saying of John Wesley's today, when it was being used as a Mission Statement by an Industrial Mission colleague of mine in different area:
'Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.'
Creation & Creativity
Posted by Mary Vickers on 20th May 2011
As part of my role, I’m chaplain at Humberside International Airport. So, Tuesday this week was spent at a meeting of the British Isles and Eire Airport Chaplains’ Network at Manchester Airport. Whilst there, I got to see 2 great examples of man’s creativity.
First, as part of our programme, we all had a tour underneath and round Concorde - as the flagship of the BA Concorde fleet is now in retirement at the airport’s Runway Visitors' Park. Regarded by many as an aviation icon, Concorde still holds the record as being the fastest commercial aircraft. Travelling at speeds of up to 1,330 mph, she made the journey from London to New York in under 3.5 hours whereas the journey now takes around 8 hours. I noticed a plaque on one of the engines saying "Engineered to be the best. Flew above the rest."
The other example of creativity I saw was the A380. We heard it land during one of our meeting sessions but at the end of our lunch-break were able to go outside to watch the world’s largest passenger airliner take-off. She was quieter than I’d imagined but it was an amazing sight to see such a huge plane lift seemingly effortlessly into the sky. With a capacity of between 550-850 passengers depending on configuration, such a feat has been made possible by a combination of different new technologies.
Seeing both these planes, one retired and one active, got me to thinking about creativity. Ideas are obviously at the root of creativity but what makes them come to pass? An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Others are courage, imagination, and determination. One can only admire people who ‘think out of the box’ as the saying goes, and so come up with new and amazing things that improve our lives.
I also got to thinking about a number of those I meet and work with as an industrial chaplain - those in factories whose working life mainly consists of undertaking repetitive and mundane tasks - where is creativity for them? Are they fulfilled in their working lives or is it simply boring work? Some of them say they are fulfilled, because they recognise that they are an important part of a larger system - that even though their task is routine and possibly boring, if it wasn’t done then the end product wouldn’t be right and so wouldn’t be satisfactory. I’ve also met people on the production lines who use their time to imagine all sorts of things - some think of nice places that they’ve been or would like to go to; some work through problems; some window-shop in their minds; others dream all sorts of dreams; and one told me she spends the time designing all the fantastic shoes she’d love to own. I’d like to think that one day she’ll draw or write her ideas on paper and so they’ll see the light of day.
I believe that we’re all created by God, and also that we can share in that creation day by day, through trying to make the world a better place; but two quotes sum up some of my thoughts these last few days:
Firstly, one from the American novelist Henry Miller who said that at the “back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur.” Certainly, many of our modern inventions would seem like miracles to our ancestors!
And English author Charles Dickens said that “the whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists”. That’s the difference between our creative activities and those of God - God loved each of us before we were even born.
So, what does a chaplain do?
Posted by Mary Vickers on 6th April 2011
Like most of the population I've filled in a census form in the last few weeks.
In common with many people I found it strange task; a mixture of the 'obvious' and straightforward alongside the rather weird and/or complicated and/or puzzling. However, I ploughed on steadily until I came to the questions about what I do. My job title was okay - I know that - although it was too long for the space provided and I had to abbreviate it slightly. But then I really struggled! How on earth do I describe what a chaplain does in only 34 characters?? Much scribbling on paper counting letters ensued. I'm not entirely happy with what I wrote but decided it would have to do. And then I was asked to describe the nature of my employer's business in only 51 characters!! Aaaargh! Again, I was left with a feeling of frustration in not being given enough space to say what really mattered.
My memory is short and so I can't remember what I wrote 10 years ago. I was mainly an associate priest in a parish then, so I guess I found it just as hard, and I do have a vague recollection of struggling with which employment tick-box was best for a non-stipendiary minister......
Although my comments sound slightly flippant, and I know I'm not alone in finding bits of the census frustrating to say the least, the questions raised by the experience are important ones, both of self-identity and also of the theological nature of chaplaincy. Just what is a chaplain? And what are we really doing as we go about our work? And what would be a good banner headline for our work? (because a banner headline is about all you can get with 51 characters!) If any readers want to suggest things, I'll happily add them into the debate. In the meantime, I shall ponder and see what I come up with - watch this space......