What does a Minister do all week?

The following is a long, rambling essay in which I make no real attempt to be amusing or entertaining. You have been warned.

But it’s something I’ve wanted to write for a while – a sum-up of a typical week, in my ministry here at Merseyside Unitarians. I’ve wanted to write it for myself first and foremost – to make some kind of a record, so ten years from now I’ll remember what this wonderful time in my life was like. So it may be a bit self-indulgent, but I imagine it may appeal to a few others: congregants, perhaps, and colleagues in the ministry, or anyone who wonders just what it is, exactly, that a minister does all week. I love reading diaries from bygone times, and while it’s quite unlikely that this record will survive more than a year or two, the idea of a record for posterity appeals to me. So here it is: what my week is like, as co-minister of Merseyside Unitarian Ministry Partnership, 2015-2020.

Mondays used to begin with poetry. I had made it a habit – since 2013 or 2014, before this ministry started – to wake up early on Mondays and work on a little poem, which I would then post on social media. I called it “Your Monday blessing”. I like to think, in some way, it might be a gift for someone else. I didn’t want to get too grandiose about it; I was just stringing a few words together. So was Shakespeare I suppose – and I do always like to consider that every time I put pen to paper I am engaging with a millennias-old tradition – but I didn’t get caught thinking I was “creating poetry” in any hifalutin qualitative sense. I was just trying to make myself smile with words, and then sharing this smile with others. It was very gratifying, I freely admit, to check the website or Facebook throughout the day and see that friends had read it and enjoyed it.

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Theme Talk

In August I was honoured to take part in a five-day series of theme talks on “Theology in the Flesh”. You can find all the theme talks here:

Hucklow Theme Talks

The 2019 talks were quite a diverse and riveting collection, ranging from the scars of race and the social self; to the limitations of language and direct spiritual transcendence; to forging a connection between materialism and spirituality; and to reclaiming fat and living with radical self-love. Lastly, my talk was how to live authentically, through the body, in a time of drastic climate crisis, as modelled in the gospel of Mark. I know that sounds a bit dry, but as you’ll hear, the audience and I got really into it together. I hope you do too!  (note: the first 15 minutes are opening prayer and children’s story, at around 15:00 the talk itself begins)

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FIRST

With these auspicious lines, the poet commences
The earliest poem of the Australopithecus anamensis.
Or were you first? Did those acuminated senses
Place the objects of the world within your bars,
And did that mouth of yours grunt out an ode
To grubs and berries, stones and stars?
Should your genus, like mine, count out the metered time,
Then surely I am far from the second.
Still I praise your face,
Sister, mother, with estimations grossly reckoned.
Show my your brow of yearning bold!
And for all that you have yet to make –
Spear-tip, fire, blacktop, rake –
I’d extoll your rugged feet,
And every setting where these miracles meet the ground,
Without pretenses. By words unsaid, by years and menses,
You and I are bound. And there are no fences,
At last, where we sing together in the round.

A._anamensis_01-detail

 

 

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Generic Prayer Instructions

Find nature, then be in it.
Go to a body of placid water.
Sit.

Notice who is in charge of the planets and the earth.
Not you, is it?
Very well.

Keep sitting.
Create a body of placid water.

Notice who stirs the planets and the earth.
Feel your heartbeat.
Return to it.
Return to it.
Go home.

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The Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov

One might, in turn, believe
and not believe in reincarnation,
in order to say, “next life, I’d do it happier,”
and then embrace this one.

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Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Prayer

Boss, we’ve still got that deal.
(right?)
Give me bread
Give me life
even when
I don’t deserve life
in Your eyes.
I’ll give life
to those who don’t deserve life
in my eyes.
I’ll make You holy.
I’ll say Your name,
and it will mean something
when I say it.
(anyway)
Boss, I know it’s tempting,
but deliver me
from every manner of vengeance.
‘Cos we’ve still got that deal.
And when I’m gone – soon – only You
and the deal
will be left
on the table.

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What Keeps Time?

What keeps time?

Heartbeats
steps
a circle, pulled through its circumference
a jar, beneath some papers, in a cupboard
a tick
a dinosaur, reshaped and reappraised
rings on a tree
waves, microwaves, and train goodbyes
the folded hands of a pensioner
and the regular occasional ha
ha
ha
of air rising to meet air.

But where, tell me, does all this kept time
earn its freedom?
Is it waiting
in the gap between the bells,
or is it already taken
from the stretched skin
beating one, two, three, four?

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Your Monday Blessing for today

May God’s home be in the arms of the homeless and the refugee,
may God’s ceremony be justice,
may God’s tribute be surrender.

May God’s righteousness be the poor, confirmed,
and may God’s river be the very stream
where she is taking her old grey coat, right now.

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The Diner

The night before I got married,
there was a diner.
It was across the street from the motel
where we were staying –
where I was staying,
and my friends, and a few various
of my family,
and the night after wedding happened, the plan was
we’d pretty much all be staying there,
including my wife (-to-be) and I.
It had a neon sign, this diner,
I think it said, “Diner”, as neon diner signs
tend to do.
Maybe it was red.
Inside was plenty of chrome, and the ageless cakes
in that spinning-case thing they always have,
and booths, and chairs that swivel.
 
And the night before I got married,
myself and Claire and Dave,
my brother Phil, actually all my brothers
I’m pretty sure, and Alex I know,
and Munish, and others, a few of us, anyway,
we went to that diner,
walked across the parking lot, from the motel,
past the neon sign,
and proceeded to order
four bottles of wine
and a small fruit salad.
I believe it had a couple slices of melon in it.
We may have ordered some eggs later, I dimly recall.
I know we had more wine.
And we played cards, one game or another,
and talked about nothing, mostly.
 
The day after that night, my (now-) wife and I
got married, in a historic home, not too far from the motel.
We’ve got lots of photos.
It was great.
But I still remember the night before,
the night at the diner,
fondly.
And what I mostly remember about it
was that it was a good night.
I’ve always liked diner food.
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Great Story Prayer

Eternal spirit of life and love, o God,
We come together in your presence today,
Grateful to be a part of the great story.
What a magnificent story it is! From the whirling of the stars,
To the evolution of humanity,
From the achievements of nations,
To family life around the table,
There is much in our world to astound us,
Disturb us, and bring us peace.

We are part of a story much too large and complicated
For us to fully understand. We appreciate that,
But we also know that you have given us reason to know our portion.
We have within us a great striving for fairness,
A thirst for justice. We feel it in our bones when something is wrong,
And we have lodged in our memory, the dream of the right.
We don’t know how this story will end –
Though we live aware that our own individual story will end.
But we know we have a chance,
While we are here, to serve beauty and dignity
And truth and basic kindness.

Into this great story, into this great tapestry
Of natural beauty and human endeavour,
We can weave in threads of good deeds.
Help us, oh spirit, to move this story along,
And to jolt it, every day, towards love, AMEN

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