Friday, April 29, 2011

royal service will be resumed as soon as possible

I may be on another, more colonial continent, but thanks to BBC America (or actually any broadcaster - it was ubiquitous) I was able to follow the wedding of the year. (Second only to @6Eight's wedding, obviously.)

It was a good wedding for Parry. Seldom has his music been so celebrated outside a festival of Parry. I Was Glad is glorious - Blest Pair of Sirens less so, and some of the other bits really forgettable. Jerusalem scored a big hit: lovely arrangement with sublime violin writing.

It was also a good wedding for Twitter & FaceBook. Thanks to all those who made the experience so enjoyable by joining in the fun. I will refer to many of you...

I have to say - if any of you are about to get married at St Catherine's, don't get any ideas. No, you may not have I Was Glad (our aisle is far too small), no you may not plant trees inside the church, no you may not invite the Queen, no you may not have fanfares of trumpets, no you may not use the 1928 rite, no, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not be available to sing in your choir. Yes, you may have Bread of Heaven - you usually do; yes, you may have a mini-me as your chief bridesmaid, but at your own expense (don't come crying to me if your sister in fact looks as much like you as William's best man looked like him); yes, please invite lots of men in uniforms - I always think it adds something (James Stewart behave yourself now). (I include a photo of two random blokes in uniform.) Richard helpfully pointed out that the bridal party formed a 2-2-3-2 formation; Stuart commented that when Fabio doesn't sing the national anthem he gets pilloried, but somehow the Queen just gets away with it.

 There were other unanswered questions. Why was there a nun sitting next to William? (No - not the pretty girl in white, the rather plain one in grey.) Joyce suggested she was his friend. What, his only friend? Mark added a definition: Nun, adj., The number of boys who wanted to date her at school. Maybe so, but she got to sit next to the future King at his wedding.

During the signing of the register we had the aforementioned Blest Pair. If you will choose Parry, you will only get one song during the signing, and I don't care how long you take. Should have gone for Love Changes Everything. Elaine wanted Michael Ball singing that. James preferred a little-known (but much loved) version, Fish Changes Everything. Now that would have been a signing of the register piece to remember.

During the balcony scene, there was a surreal moment as Prince Charles seemed to announce his come-back tour and single with a Michael Jackson moment as he threatened to throw one of the flower girls over the edge in front of millions. The Queen evidently had already heard the song and hurried inside. Gemma was worried about what happened to the child. But the kid was only 32nd in line to the throne, so it didn't really matter.
This information came from (or should have come from) Sir Malcolm Toffee-Knowes (OK - it was Ross, but, come on, did you hear him?), former Comptroller of the Royal Household.

Former Comptoller. Just the title makes you proud to be British.

As did so much of the non-Parry music. Yes - some was allowed to creep in. A beautiful Ubi Caritas by Mealor, and a new piece by Rutter which seemed to be a medley of everything he's ever written. The Rutter divided people. James: "It's gone all Disney. Ugh." Nicky: "Love the new Rutter anthem". Gill & I were with James. I think it was for the American market. Watch for it in the next cartoon. And then there was Crown Imperial as the exit march. Fantastic. (Yes, St Catherine's couples, you may request this.) Actually, that made it quite a lot of Coronation music at this wedding, didn't it?

The first line of the sermon was excellent - "Be what you are meant to be & you will set the world on fire" - but then it went off a bit. Thanks to Mark for his compliment about my preaching at this point. Actually, I can never hear anything about Catherine of Sienna without mentally seeing her church in Sienna & picturing her shrunken head which is on display there. To quote James: Ugh.

I do like the Royal Family. I am not an ardent Royalist. I was not fired up to gawp at the events of the day - but I did enjoy everything. I do like a good wedding - I do get to take a lot of them. This was a good wedding, and I enjoyed it with friends all over the place. Thanks for your company, and thanks to the BBC for having cameras everywhere. I mean, everywhere...

Marriage is a wonderful thing. Because love is a gift from God, and to celebrate that gift in the life of a nation and a world is to celebrate something godly. People deserve to find someone they may love and by whom they may be loved. I wish William and Kate every happiness. I wish them more than they may hope for. I wish them God's love in all its fulness, surrounding and filling and overflowing their lives. Which blessing I pray for every couple beginning their marriage. And I pray for them friends and family who will have as much fun with such an occasion as my friends and I had today too.

Monday, April 25, 2011


The thing about this stage of the moving on process is that inevitably it is filled with looking backwards. Inevitably and rightly. I have been a part of a community I have loved for eleven years, and there are so many people, so many relationships involved that the cherishing of what we have and have had is indeed rich in these days.

That this part of the process has been coupled over the weekend with Easter has made it, for me, especially poignant. For this is a time of new hope, new beginnings, new life. An end to the old, a fresh start. A death, a resurrection. And resurrection is glorious.

Mind you, I have allowed myself the odd comedy moment. Before Friday's Walk of Witness through Pontypridd, a lady from another church congratulated me on my move. "It's good to have an evangelical going to a university," she said; "People get taught all sorts of things & you'll be able to put them right." Such confidence in me! And after all, the evangelical perspective on fundraising is underemphasised... Forgive me, I didn't take the opportunity to correct her understanding of what I will be doing. I simply thanked her.

The Walk was lovely - two Indian students led the way, carrying the cross slowly so that we all kept together, and I spoke in the Market Square on the God who understands, who knows what suffering is and stays with us through it to show that pain, fear, death (even) are not the final truths of this world - but his love, his life, these things are stronger, truer, deeper.

I ran up from the Square to begin our afternoon service (made it with five minutes to spare) and then led everyone through thoughts around the cross. I love the way Jesus says to the chief priests and co in the first trial scene that all of them will see him at the right hand of the Mighty One. Is this a promise of salvation or judgement? Or a mix? I like to think he is offering the former, and that these guys baying for his blood will receive the blessing of the same. Jesus speaks a blessing to those who curse. They aren't bad people - they go to Temple every day, and it's really hard to be really bad and go to temple every day. They are just people. And he loves people; so much he dies for them; for us.

On Saturday I joined my Outdoor Fitness mates for an hour in the park (in baking sunshine) before joining the Coffee Morning & Kid's Craft Day at church. Both of those events combined for a puppet show... and the Easter Bunny's theological grasp of the season was so impressive, I booked him to start our main Easter Celebration Service the day after.

There have been two Easter Eves when I have failed to read St Mark's Gospel to an assembled crowd since arriving in Pontypridd. One year I had a terrible throat and could hardly speak (please refrain from commenting), and last year I simply wasn't well. So it was good to keep the tradition on my last Easter Eve. And to enjoy it so much. It only takes an hour and a half, and it's great story telling (once you forget to do it in a 'religious' voice). You can make some fantastic links by getting it all in one go.

And then there was Sunday.

After Friday, I felt emotional. My last Good Friday here. My last preaching through this story on this day in this place. By Sunday I was slightly exhausted. I started the day with a tear and an old sermon. The tear came from a lovely person who hadn't been in church the previous week to hear I was leaving; a person who genuinely surprised me with the extent of their emotional response. Surprised, and deeply touched me. The old sermon was something I preached at Easter may be three years ago. As I preached it, I disliked it. So I went off piste towards the end, which improved it no end. But I then had two more morning services to go, so I threw away my notes & decided to busk it.

If I can't preach Easter by now, I really never will be able to.

The 9.30 service was a vast improvement, though I wasn't entirely happy. The 11am had it fine. A stroll through the resurrection as the tipping of the ages, with John 20.1-18 as the point at which everything changes. We find ourselves in a garden, where once everything had gone wrong, and now everything is well, where once a woman had been deceived and caused to break relationship with God, but now is restored and worships anew the present Lord, walking in the early cool of the day. Obedience follows. Second chances are the order of the day. Mistakes, sin, pain, death - these thing no longer rule and have the final say. Forgiveness, love, joy and life are God's ultimate truths. All we have to do is take the outstretched hand before us -

Funny. As I preached I was reminded of a situation where mistakes and sin and pain have taken their toll. During the day I had the chance to speak to the people involved in that particular, well, mess. And on the day where we find hope reborn and Jesus walking amongst us with the power to change the world, we were able to share a little peace and I hope find something new in the air. The best sermons are the ones which change lives, by process or by crisis, and even if the life changed turns out to be your own.

I handed out the eggs afterwards, as I always do. Another of my traditions. Over a hundred given away this Easter. And then drove away, packed and ready for sunnier climes. Next year will be different. But so was last year. Isn't that the point? If we are following Jesus, holding his hand, living the life he gives us, then there should be from time to time an end to the old, a fresh start. A death, a resurrection. And resurrection is glorious.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I'd love to write an emotional piece about my feelings on preparing to leave St Catherine's and moving away from being a full time vicar.

I'd love to do this, but you know - I'm just not the most emotionally demonstrative bloke on the block. I did write a piece, but then deleted it. It kind of said stuff that was kind of true, but it wasn't true to who I am in that - I just wouldn't really say that sort of stuff.

Suffice it to say: being part of a Christian community is about loving & being loved. We do this in our own idiosyncratic ways, and that's part of the joy of it. Please don't go around hugging me, I won't terribly enjoy the experience, and please forgive me for not being effusive with the physical contact I proffer - but that doesn't mean my love isn't real and that I don't value the love I have received.

Words spoken over these days have touched me deeply. But more so has just seeing everyone. I know your stories. Yours & mine; they got locked together somehow, didn't they?

In the photo the then Bishop of Monmouth playfully resists handing over his license to the newly ordained priest (ah, for the days when I had hair); there are hearts and lives and futures written on that license, and mine intertwined with them all. It is a heart-breaking and life-giving slip of paper. It is a privilege, not a right. In retrospect, it was not merely the bishop's hands that presented it to me. And so I find that it is now who I am, regardless of what my job title is or where I might live.

Hmm. So I spent a Sunday suddenly looking backwards and feeling the pinch. But life throws you forwards, and as I turn my gaze that way a whole different range of anticipations come right at me...

Saturday, April 16, 2011


So it's been a bit of a time in our family. In addition to my decision, my sister has been fighting breast cancer. I am so proud of her and the way she is doing this.

Yesterday she began posting on FaceBook about her experiences. If you are a "friend" of hers on FB, go look there. But for those who are not, I simply copy her first post here today. With love & prayers along the way.

About 3 weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, those of you who know me well know what an inconvenience this has been to me as I am truly way too busy! 10 days ago I had a bilateral mastectomy performed by an awesome surgeon with a first class team. Many of my closest friends have been towers of strength and support (my brother Marcus, Scarlette, Sandy, Ronda, Laura and Donna especially) and the amount of well wishes, prayers, gifts, food and flowers has been overwhelming, 'Thank you' doesn't seem enough to say to you all, I am more than blessed to have you all in my life. The second part of my journey starts on Thursday with the 'chemo', whoo hoo can hardly wait! Apparently I'll be rocking the Sinead O'Conner look for a few months (my younger friends are now totally lost lol).
Although posting my journey on Facebook seems a little OTT it's just easier than calling everyone on 3 continents. Love to all my family and friends, remember only positive people on Team Gill!
 Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. ~Winston Churchill

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

all good things

I have been gifted with eleven wonderful years here at St Catherine's, and it is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I come to the end of this time.

Sadness - because this is my home. This church, my family. This past decade has been wonderful, and I have loved being vicar here beyond the power of words to convey. It has been the most enormous privilege to lead this congregation through all kinds of adventures of faith: renewals of buildings and people and worship and hope. We have seen the Lord's great kindness, felt his love, and been able to share these precious, precious things throughout our community as we have built up our life together.

But also I am excited. Excited for St Catherine's. I came here because I felt called to be a part of what the Lord is doing, and although my part is done, what God is doing is far from over. What lies ahead is tremendous - and I am excited to see whom the Lord will bring to lead the church on into the next phase of its life.

And I am excited for myself. Trish reminded us at the start of the year that following Jesus is a gift, and right now I feel that keenly. I am not going to another parish but to something totally different. I will be working at Leeds University as part of a team working on a campaign there, and I will have a part to play in co-ordinating some of that work. This will be very different for me, and stepping out into new things is always a risk, but sometimes that's at the heart of faith. Being prepared for the unexpected. I will live on the other side of the pew - being a member of a church, becoming an NSM in that diocese, but my work will be focussed in a whole other place for the next period, and I am excited about this new stage in my life.

I have been aware for some months that it is time for me to finish here, and for someone else to come and lead St Catherine's onwards; a very few people have shared this with me, and I am grateful for their kind support. It has taken a while to work out what exactly should be next for me, and I am delighted to be joining the team at Leeds.

This won't happen overnight. I am looking to finish here in mid-July before moving north and beginning at the University at the start of August. So there's plenty of time to do many things yet; and may I say to everyone who has been a part of my life at St Catherine's - thank you for allowing me these eleven years. I would not have swapped them for anything. The Lord bless you mightily as you walk forwards with him in the days & years ahead - I may be going, but I shall continue to pray & to watch with wonder at all he will do in your midst.