Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

Friday, 24 December 2021

Christmas 2021 - Christmas Sermon


This is my Christmas sermon from the Carol Service on December 19th at Huddersfield Parish Church.

I would have posted the text - but it loses something in the writing down. 

Do you hear what I hear?  Christmas Sermon 2022

Faithful North

During the autumn term I had rather a lovely time with David and Richard from our Diocese of Leeds Comms Team chatting to people from across our amazing and diverse area. The subjects vary from our response as Christians to the climate crisis, two episodes about vocation, estates ministry and last but not least, "What is a Diocesan Secretary and what do they actually do?"

It sounds very churchy. Well yes. Yes it is. But it's very approachable too. We were trying to have some of the conversations that you might have if you found yourself stuck in a lift with an ordinand, a vicar off an estate, a parish volunteer doing some training, or, indeed a Diocesan Secretary. And all this without you having to get stuck in a lift, eh?

There are some lovely people living in and working out their callings in our Diocese. These chats were fun to have and I hope fun and informative to listen to.  I hope if you listen you will find connections too. I think it's wonderful when the folks who are the body of Christ can connect with eachother both by recognising our similarities and by enjoying our differences. 

Check out the podcasts here Faithful North | Podcast on Spotify or search Faithful North on your usual podcast app. 

Saturday, 4 December 2021

God's Promises - Advent 2

This is my sermon for Advent 2 - preached at 8.30am BCP Communion and 10am Sung Eucharist on Sunday December 5th 2021

Last week we heard God’s messenger come to Mary to speak of God’s mission for her, God’s blessing, God’s promise, the double edged sword that would pierce her own heart too – and we heard about Hagar, the slave of Abraham and Sarah.

This week we again begin with Genesis – and this time we hear God repeat the promises made to Hagar for her son Ishmael – this time speaking to Abraham of the son Sarah will bear.  These aren’t new promises.  These are the promises which God has already made being reiterated, emphasised.

Just as Abram’s name was changed to Abraham by God – now we hear Sarai’s name changed to Sarah. The change of name a sign both of God’s authority in their lives, and of the new mission indicated by the name. Sarah means woman of high rank. 

Remember we are at a place in our story when there is as yet no ‘people of Israel’ – the 12 tribes born of Jacob are not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and the Commandments for God’s people have not yet been shared on Sinai.   Abraham and Sarah are wandering around with God – not ‘on a journey’ like a Strictly contestant- but literally wandering from place to place, nomadic, outside the structures of any town, culture or tribe. 

God does not give Sarah a new name, a new designation, relative to how the world sees things, relative to her place in human society – this is not a promise that other people will give Sarah honour - God’s renaming, God’s acknowledgement of Sarah is about where she stands with God.

Despite her cruelty, despite her bitterness – God is working through her.  

Is this a relief to us, I wonder, that God can still work with honour and bless such unlikely people?

Then in Abraham’s conversation with God we see something else illustrated that I think I have always thought of as being something modern, but which scripture reveals is ancient.

People think they have to choose between competing good things.

God shows that with his blessings ALL may thrive.

It is Abraham that thinks in his heart that there must be a choice to be made between his son with a slave - Ishmael - and the son God tells him his wife will have, to be named Isaac.  It is Abraham who thinks that if there is to be blessing for Isaac then there can be no blessing for Ishmael. 

We have already heard this is not true, God has already spoken to Hagar of all that will be done through Ishmael.

It is not God who preferences one child over the other – it is not God who even suggests that such a thing is necessary or desirable.  It is Abraham’s assumption.  I wonder if it is our assumption too?


Do we always think for someone to have something good someone else has to go without?  Do we think that blessings are scarce and are we tempted to hold tight to goodness in case there isn’t enough for everyone?

This might seem a little left field to you but bear with me.

Why, when we hear of refugees desperate to reach the UK – refugees wherever they come from, driven by nothing more than the desperate desire to at least have a chance of a good life, and give their children a good and safe home – why are we vulnerable to voices that suggest that for those children to have a good and safe home, for those refugees to have a chance of a better life, our lives, our children and grandchildren must somehow therefore be disadvantaged?  Like Abraham, we think that if one is to be blessed then there can’t be enough blessing for everyone.

You may say – that’s not what I think Rachel – OK – but we allow our mainstream media to speak in these terms and we’re not all rushing to correct them.

God does not say because one person has good things another must have less.  God shows us, time and again that with God all people can be blessed.  With God there is abundance of goodness, not a scarcity to be fought over, hoarded and hidden from others.  With God Ishmael AND Isaac will live and thrive.  God does not create the competition – but neither is God absent from the world where we think there is competition for resources, for goodness, for a fair and happy life.

God is alongside the people who default to thinking the good things can’t happen. God is alongside those for whom such generosity, such mutual flourishing seems so counter intuitive, so against their experience – that they laugh in the face of God at the suggestion.

Again I wonder if it is a relief to us, that God can still bring blessing, through and with and in the company of, people who think mutual good so unlikely that they laugh at it.

Then we move to our Gospel – this part of the story known as the Visitation.  - the beginning of the encounter between cousins, Mary and Elizabeth – and again that word mutuality springs to mind.  We see in this encounter that there cannot be too much blessing, too much joy, that joy for ourselves and for one another can overflow. 

God is with them both, they know the power of the holy spirit moving in them – I’m sure in some spiritual and mysterious way which the text cannot convey – but also in very physical, earthy ways.  The baby leaps inside Elizabeth. 

We begin to sense, I think, under our own skin, just how life changing it will be that the one we wait for this Advent will dwell in the same bone and sinew, blood and vein that we inhabit. 

There can be no separation of time or space, we are not made of different stuff, no us and them, no either or – there is only both/and.  The blessing is for all. It will inhabit our own skin and will not be othered or separated.   

It will not be Isaac or Ishmael, Sarah or Hagar. All will be blessed.  Not deserving or undeserving.  Deserving and undeserving – and good luck guessing which one any of us might be.

It will not be us or the desperate and vulnerable on blow up boats in the channel.  All are offered blessing through the one who is coming to walk each step, bear each hurt, know each humiliation and share every joy.  We might even be the instruments through which God’s blessing is shown – and if we are I have no doubt that the blessings that will come back to us will be more than we can imagine.

Maranatha. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.


The Visitation, by Malcolm Guite

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.[1]

Sunday, 28 November 2021

General Synod - first the tweets

It's now 10 days since I was at General Synod for the first time and I continue to ruminate on the experience and on how I can best contribute in the coming years. If you are one of the electorate who gave me your vote - and if I haven't said it before -  I'm very grateful (was also a little shocked!) I will try my best to make your vote count.  

First things first - tweets on a long journey home after the last day of my first General Synod.

God's Promises - Advent 1


This isn't generally a 'day job' blog - but I am ashamed to say that 18 months in to life as Vicar of Huddersfield - I don't know how to post to the Church website! (www.huddersfieldparishchurch.org) So here is my sermon from today and info about what's going on in the parish during Advent.

During Advent will be spending more time with our Sunday readings, meeting for Bible study on Monday evenings (on Zoom at 7pm) to reflect together, and focusing on the Hebrew Bible readings at our Wednesday lunchtime Eucharist and bible study group. This week our readings explore Hagar’s encounter with God and the Annunciation. 

This week’s readings are Genesis 16.7-13**
and the Gospel is Luke 1.26-38**
To access the Zoom link for bible study please contact office@huddersfieldparishchurch.org. Below is today's sermon, preached at the 8.30am BCP Communion and the 10am Eucharist.
God’s Promises – Advent 1 2021
May I speak in the name of our living God, creator, saviour and comforter. Amen.
I wonder what you are used to thinking of as the themes of Advent? I wonder if you were aware that the themes go deeper than something to say when we light each of the candles in an Advent wreath?
Not all church traditions would use a wreath like ours and light the candles together – and of those that do, some wouldn’t mention any particular theme. On some wreaths all the candles would be red – like those ones they put on the Blue Peter Advent crown. Come on, some of you remember – something simple you could make with two metal coathangers, some highly flammable tinsel and real candles? If you don’t know what I mean – please Google it when you get home. For some the themes are hope, peace, love and joy. Keeping it nice a broad.
The tradition that I was brought up with was that during Advent we reflect on the promised messiah that is to come through the experiences and expectations of Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist and Mary. And no, the pink candle isn’t for Mary because she’s a girl.
Our readings this Advent, which are also the subject of our Monday evening bible study, and on which we will focus at our mid-week Eucharist and bible study too, are pretty true to this tradition – but they put a slightly different spin on it.
This year we are tweaking the focus on our Advent lense, to encourage us – as the clergy always long to do, to see the same season, the same process, the same journey – the same four weeks of trying to connect to a peaceful penitential season while cultural Christmas already rages around us - through fresh eyes. Together we are seeing how God’s promises and blessings have impacted on people we never hear about in the standard Sunday lectionary – but who are nevertheless key to our understanding of ourselves and our communities in relation to God’s promises and blessings – who they are for, how they come, and how they are shared.
This morning we hear not of patriarchs, but of matriarchs. Of Hagar and Mary. Both experiencing the most direct communication with God. Both hearing God’s promises. Both responding.
I don’t know if many of you are familiar with Hagar. Hagar is an Egyptian, the abused slave of Abraham and Sarah. The word in verse 11 – "affliction" in the NRSV – means abuse. It’s the same word for how Egypt treated the Hebrew slaves and its meaning includes physical and sexual violence.
When Sarah cannot give Abraham an heir, she instead gives him her slave to produce for him an heir. Hagar has Abraham’s child – and we are told loses respect for Sarah now she holds a more privileged position in the household. Sarah is angry – and Abraham does not protect Hagar, but tells Sarah to do what she wants.
As the story goes on, God gives Sarah her child in the end, in her old age, and Isaac is born – leaving Sarah yet more bitter, jealous and abusive to Hagar and her son Ishmael. It was all Sarah’s idea – but that doesn’t make her kinder or more tolerant.
This is a text that bears close wrestling with. God has already promised to Abraham that there will be a child. But the child has not yet materialised and Sarah takes things into her own hands. She loses faith in God’s promise, and much harm flows from this – to herself and others. Her relationship with Abraham is soured by her bringing another woman into his bed. The abuse in the relationships flows from jealousy, bitterness, feelings of rejection. Sarah has been dehumanised by her own trauma – we will hear next week of the times her husband has pimped her out to Kings to guard his own life - and we see her living out that damage here. But none of this is of God’s doing – rather it is what flows – what we create - when we choose to ignore God.
But God does not forget promises – they are not lightly given.
Hagar is not one of "God’s people". But God speaks to Hagar. Hagar is not loved or cherished, she is used and exploited. But God speaks to Hagar. This is a big deal. Hagar the foreigner, the stranger, hears God’s promises more than once – for her, for her children. In her otherness, her outsider-ness, her victimhood, God speaks to her.
There is a shocking mutuality revealed in this text. Hagar hears God’s message and she trusts that this God of others will hear her – we know this because that is what her child Ishmael’s name means "God will hear". And in the name that Hagar gives to the living God we again have this back and forth – she names God. She recognises that this is God, she sees the truth of God and knows that this is the God who sees the truth of her too. We know because that is the name she gives El-ro’i – “The God who sees me” – and we know too that while she sees and recognises God, there are still questions, it’s not all over, all understood, it’s part of the story not the whole picture. “Have I really seen God and remained alive?”
We then heard the much more familiar annunciation to Mary told – but these stories have so much in common. Each receive a messenger. Each respond. I used to love sharing the story of Mary’s annunciation with the infant school children in my last job – because Mary is such a fantastic role model of faith and learning in this passage (and not because of all that lowly obedience stuff). She’s a brilliant role model of faith because she doesn’t just blindly accept. There is mutuality here too. God’s messenger brings the message, but this encounter must have been so much more expansive than the time it takes us to read of it. There is time for thinking, for reflecting, for asking questions. The fact that the encounter takes place at all tells us that it’s important that Mary has the time for these things, that Mary consents and understands, as far as she can, the gift and the burden God asks her to bear.
The angel speaks words of greeting. Mary is troubled and she pondered. Time was taken, time to adjust, time to connect, before the angel moves into the main business of the communication. And Mary has questions – and not lala land questions – deeply practical ones. We always imagine folks back then weren’t scientific – but they did know where babies came from.
So the angel explains – and Mary says yes – Mary trusts. God asks her to be part of how God’s promises and blessings will flow not just for her, but for everyone.
In some ways Hagar and Mary are very different – but in their responses to God, their openness to listen and speak, to see and be seen, their questioning without rejecting, they are both models to us as we seek this Advent to engage with God’s promises to us.
These are the ways in which our ancestors, unnamed and named, the fertile and the barren, the mighty and the weak, the insignificant and the odd, have met and responded to God’s promises of life, of continuity, of the chance to participate in God’s story and our story.
I wonder where you might hear God’s promises for yourself and others this week?

Friday, 15 October 2021

Synods and things.....

Tomorrow I will have the honour of being the first woman to Chair the House of Clergy at the Diocese of Leeds Diocesan Synod. 
To be honest the "first woman" bit hadn't crossed my mind until a message of good cheer and congratulations from a kind colleague arrived earlier this evening.
I hope to fulfil this role with warmth, fairness and good humour.  I hope we will be a creative and collaborative Synod. I hope we can encourage good listening, fresh thinking and courageous speaking, and be a truly safe space for those things. 
And of course in the spirit of every honest person doing something for the first time, I hope I don't mess it up. 
I'll hopefully be blogging more in the next 5 years as I Chair the Diocesan Synod and serve on General Synod too. All constructive and kindly spoken comments are welcome. 

Thursday, 5 November 2020

When will it stop..... God rest ye merry Advent wreath

I'm going to stop doing this. No really I am.  but I may spend the evening leafing through Carols for Choirs....... another Advent candle lighting song - to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We light an Advent candle to show us the way
to find the Christ child waiting in a manger on the hay.
The mothers and the fathers of our faith all point the way.
O glory to God in heav’n and peace on earth
O glory to God in heav’n.
We light an Advent candle to show us the way
to find the Christ child waiting in a manger on the hay.
The prophets foretold long ago that bright and glorious day
O glory to God in heav’n and peace on earth
O glory to God in heav’n.
We light an Advent candle to show us the way
to find the Christ child waiting in a manger on the hay.
“The Kingdom now is close” said John, “Believe, repent today!”
O glory to God in heav’n and peace on earth
O glory to God in heav’n.
We light an Advent candle to show us the way
to find the Christ child waiting in a manger on the hay;
For Mary mother of our Lord her “yes” to God did say
O glory to God in heav’n and peace on earth
O glory to God in heav’n.
We light our Christ-light candle to show us the way
And we have found the Christ child in a manger on the hay;
And now we raise our voices with the angel host to say
O glory to God in heav’n and peace on earth
O glory to God in heav’n.

In case I hadn't made this obvious I'm happy for people to use these if they are of any help at all.  I'd appreciate being credited if you do use any of the words on here.