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May 3rd, the Flower Arranging National Day will see us hosting the National Association of Flower Arranging Societies  (Three Counties & South Wales Area) Diamond Year Thanksgiving  Evensong.

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The service will open with a hymn of praise for all creation: All Things Bright & Beautiful reputedly written locally at Llanwenarth House by Mrs C F Alexander, the wife of the then Archbishop of Armagh.
The OT Reading from the Book of Genesis will be read by the outgoing Area  Treasurer Trish Tucker. Also present will be the Area President Mrs Katherine Year, who said this service was  a way of giving thanks to all those volunteers who work hard in their local flower arranging clubs.
NAFAS Members regularly give out or leave for collection small bouquets of flowers for the public on this day.
Flower arranging clubs and societies joined together as the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies in 1959. The Association has since been a unifying and guiding mainstay to thousands of men, women and juniors whose love of flowers has opened up a whole new world of creativity. In 1984 NAFAS was granted charitable status in recognition of its education activities. With about 50,000 members, it ranks among the most notable specialised National Associations.

Three Counties and South Wales Area of NAFAS covers principally Worcestershire, Gloucstershire and Herefordshire and that area of South Wales up to Aberporth. The Area was formed in 1959 and currently consists of 72 Clubs, with over 4,000 members. It also is a registered charity and uses all surpluses to further its aims of education, promotion and improving the standards of flower arranging in the Area.

The NAFAS Area have held two Area Festival’s of Flowers here at the Priory Church in recent years.

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Preaching  at the Paschal Vigil on the Eve of Easter Day, Canon Mark Soady reflects on what we can learn about the resurrection from fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, as we host visitors from our Twin Town of Beaupréau, France.

Easter

He said:

It is always easier to knock down then to build up. On last Monday night  we saw the Cathedral at Notre Dame burn down in a matter of hours and yet we are told by architectural experts that that there is no way it can be rebuilt in five years time, in time for the Olympics, what ever President Macron says.

Our Lord  and Saviour said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – no   wonder  the Jewish authorities  thought he was talking nonsense. What of course he was talking about was his own crucifixion and resurrection, but even that seems impossible but with God all things are possible.

Of course there is another  aspect to this: it is easier to bring down a person, than to build up a person, but that is not a reason to do so. Our God loves us so much that he was prepared to bring himself down to raise us up,  therefore we are called to forgive and by so doing bring ourselves down so that we may bring others up.

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Easter Garden in the morning light

May we forgive as we are forgiven by the Risen Christ

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Light the Paschal candles

 

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Canon Mark Soady Secretary of the Greater Churches Network and Vicar of St Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny said:

While the church is the people not buildings we know how important church buildings are as a place to go at a time of joy and of loss.  Our thoughts are with the people of Paris who have lost their ‘go to place’ as  a result of the devastating fire.

I am sure that  as we prepare to celebrate  Jesus’s Resurrection on  Easter Day so we l hope in the face of adversity

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Fr Mark takes his turn tolling the Priory Bell in solidarity, as requested by the Rector of Notre Dame Cathedral 

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Preaching at St Mary’s Priory this morning the Sub Prior Fr Tom Bates reminded us that processions are symbolic of our faith journey. 

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Easter Garden prepared by the children on Palm Sunday 

He said:

I have recently returned from Lenten retreat on which I read some of the works of the late bishop of Gloucester and liturgist, Michael Perham. He writes of Palm Sunday: I am persuaded that following on the coat tails of the Passion ‘extempore interpolation’ will add nothing to the set text’, and so I promise to be brief.

Palm Sunday is a day that stands out in our church calendar as being different. We receive Palm crosses, we hear two passages from Our Lord’s life in the gospel as we hear the passion orated, and we participate in a procession just as Christian’s have been from the earliest times.

But I wonder what the one thing you will take away is as to why today is different or important? Are you one of those people who takes their palm away and treasures it all year to faithfully bring it back to be turned into ash for Ash Wednesday? Is it the hymns that get you in the mood for Easter making this an important turning point in the year? Is it the reading of the Passion?

Today, as every year, we have shared in a procession.

Processions in church are symbolic of our journey of faith as we journey together on the Christian path towards our goal. However today, in this procession, we remember very powerfully and importantly that Jesus is in our midst, and that he comes as our saviour, and we are accompanying him into Jerusalem today in triumph.We do so, of course, remembering that we will also accompany him out of the city on Friday to his crucifixion. We remember that thanks to the events of this week Jesus is always present with us and accompanies us not only in our triumphs but also in our falls.

Jesus is in our midst, we accompany him celebrating his coming to save us.

The second thing to remember is that the liturgy quite literally moves us on. We may keep our palm cross all year, but we cannot linger here on the threshold of Holy Week with the palms and the triumph and the shouts of hosanna. The Passion reading reminds us of that. We are moved on. Holy Week has begun. Rather like a great symphony it is in several movements: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the grand finale of the Easter Vigil.

Now we call it Holy Week but Holy Week doesn’t just happen by itself. It requires you to make it Holy and to keep it as a Holy time, set apart for God.

There will be many people who come to church this morning who will not come again until next Sunday. They will go from the ‘hosanna’s and the triumph straight into the glory of Easter, without having marked any of the powerful events which mark out the working out of our salvation as we journey with Jesus this week to the upper room, to Calvary and to the tomb.  As Jesus went to the grave to make it holy, so we too are called to make this time holy, dying to ourselves to make room for God.

It is like the gospel episode, after Lazarus has been raised and Jesus sets his face to go up to Jerusalem and Thomas says to his fellow disciples ‘Let us also go with him, that we may die with him’. That is the invitation for us all today. Christ is with us. He moves us on from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem into our commemoration of his passion and his long awaited ‘hour’. Let us walk in his footsteps as faithful followers, each another Christ as we experience his Passion for ourselves, and in sharing in his Passion and his cross may we attain the grace to joyfully celebrate the true triumph next week at Easter.

 

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The St Mary's Choir Blog

There’s a wonderful programme of music on offer at St Mary’s Priory over Holy Week.  For the first time, we will be hosting a service of Tenebrae on Wednesday at 8.00 pm, to be sung by our old friends, the Ethelbert Consort.  This most dramatic of services, (held in candle-light) will feature a wide range of musical styles and is not to be missed.  At the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday the Priory Choir will sing Ola Gjeilo’s reflective setting of the traditional Ubi caritas text. On Good Friday for their annual Sacred Concert, the Priory Choir will perform a setting of the “Stabat Mater” by Sir Charles Stanford; this is a wonderfully lyrical and deeply moving work that is, sadly, rarely performed.  The culmination of months of work, we look forward to welcoming many visitors along with our regular congregation at these services.

Wednesday 17th

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Last weekend we launch a new prayer Guild- the Guild of Simeon and Anna.

     Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child

Extract from LUKE Chapter 2       

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Canon Mark Soady said;

“As we look at ways of Proclaiming afresh the Gospel some in the congregation feel that due to age or infirmity they can not be part of the work of the body of Christ. With the launch of this Guild we are encouraging them commit to spend time in prayer  for the work of the church and the world.

Both Anna and Simeon got to meet Jesus because they devoted themselves to prayer, so joining the Guild brings a personal blessing as well as  helping to build the kingdom of God”.

                   

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This Lent,  4 members of  the Anglican congregations in Abergavenny have shared how they use the gifts God has given them to further their faith and proclaim His Gospel. As part of the Proclaim it afresh initiative, the series looked at how the individuals have followed the example of the Book of Ecclesiastes (4.10) , which says “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

Here is what they said: –

Sheila Woodhouse

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 When I was asked if I would consider giving a talk about my faith,  I thought it would be very difficult for me to put into words how my faith affects everything I do in life, you may know that it does, but do not always think about it in that way.

And yes it was / is difficult, it’s a challenge to put into words your thoughts about your beliefs.  However it is something I would commend to anyone as it makes you take time out to reflect and to confirm to yourself how essential it is to put your trust in God.

Having faith is an essential element in my role in dealing with the public, and it’s a faith that has been tested to the extreme as a 10 year old losing one’s Mother and questioning at such a young tender age why such things can happen.  I was helped by going to a Catholic school at the time whose teaching, albeit in Latin, convinced me that there was a God, and this was confirmed by having the great fortune to be brought up by grandparents who had and displayed great faith. 

 I have had, not a unique experience, but also not a rare experience, of being married to a Catholic and it is not unusual for me to go to Mass at the Catholic Church.  To be honest two people in Abergavenny who have helped me to maintain my faith have been Father Thomas Regan at St. Michael’s , and Father Jeremy at St. Mary’s

 Both men were dedicated to the unity of the Churches in our little town, as was displayed again this year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.   Traveling to Israel on the Millennium Pilgrimage with Father Jeremy  and Father Malcolm and also to Rome with Father Thomas confirmed to me the  similarities and closeness of denominations and that the faith required in both, is just the same.

 My husband Chris also attends both Christchurch and St. Mary’s and he enjoys it immensely.

 In my work experience faith and indeed hope was essential.  Dealing with people face to face, some with tremendous social problems, having tolerance towards those not necessarily in that predicament but in need of understanding, dealing with staff who believe rightly or wrongly that you are to blame –and that you can solve any problems they may have –  which can leave you exhausted on occasions. That’s when you look to your faith to carry on.

 My first experience of voluntary work during the early 1970’s, newly married not only to Chris but to Abergavenny Amateurs Junior Football Club it would appear!  Very challenging as it entailed washing muddy football kit for three Junior Teams, Under 10’s , Under12’s and Under14’s – and I did not possess an automatic washing machine! Just a separate washer and spinner!  Chris did not want to take a chance that the boys would forget to bring their kit with them to matches, I also became very adept at making tea for the supporters!! 

 Also at about this time we embarked upon setting up a local MIND group, the National Association for Mental Health, firstly as Secretary to the steering group and later to Abergavenny MIND Association I became very involved with helping to open and run a MIND shop which was only the second charity shop in the town.  This supplied much needed funds for the local group who went on to offer support to sheltered housing for former patients from Peny fal and Maindiff Hospitals who were being re-settled into the community.

 I think back and value all of this experience and thank God for not only having given me these opportunities but the ability to recognise in later life where my skills have come from.

 I believe most sincerely that one of the most important gifts that God gives us is the ability to help each other, and that whether by being involved with voluntary work in a recognized way or simply by helping our family, friends and neighbours we must never lose sight of the fact that a small gesture can be just as important as being involved in a more substantive way.

 From a personal perspective my involvement with several voluntary groups –  whether previously with Abergavenny MIND, Peny-y-fal Hospital League of Friends, Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, or currently with  Nevill Hall Hospital League of Friends, Nevill Hall Hospital Thrombosis and General Research Fund and other groups – has all given me great satisfaction and I feel privileged to have worked with some very genuine and dedicated people, I have worked alongside one lady who has for over 40 years worked  in Nevill Hall for both the League of Friends and the Thrombosis and General Research fund, just one example and there are many more like her, truly inspiring.

My role as a Councilor came about by accident, an election looming and a shortage of candidates, once I had decided to put myself forward hard work and very supportive colleagues and responses from the electorate kept me going, and the knowledge that as with everything in life God would ultimately decide, although I did feel very selfish asking him to guide me as there are simply so many far more important things to pray for.

 As a County Councilor, working in an arena where there are many different views, tolerance, patience and understanding are a must.  And having faith in what you are trying to achieve, i.e. a better life for all is essential.  Likewise as Treasurer for a small Church with decreasing funds and increasing maintenance problems, it is one’s faith that keeps you going.

 How to identify if I have any skills, not being very artistic or having any sort of obvious skills, I started to identify exactly what the question poses:

 Skills such as being able to communicate, determination to see things through to the end, a desire to help people, being sympathetic these are all much easier to recognize, I mention these as surely it is these personal attributes that drive you on and this requires faith.

 Since being elected I find myself asking more and more for God’s guidance in everything I do, it’s a great blessing to be able to pray but more importantly to listen to God.  As Father Mark tells us, we need to take time to listen to God; I have never forgotten that message. 

I have always believed in fair play and become very upset about the way people treat each other on occasions, in particular the fact that many Christians are persecuted for their faith.  We pray for peace and without that I would find it very difficult to cope with many of the dreadful things that happen.

The poem I am going to finish with, some of you may already know.  But since hearing it several years ago I often feel the need to read it and share it: I also find it very helpful when taking on some of the Challenges I face as a Councillor.

I may never see tomorrow;

There’s no written guarantee,

And things that happened yesterday

Belong to history,

I can’t predict the future

I cannot change the past,

I have just this present moment,

I must treat it as my last.

 

I must use this moment wisely

For soon it will pass away

And be lost to me forever

As part of yesterday,

I must exercise compassion,

Help the fallen to their feet,

Be a friend to the friendless,

Make an empty life complete.

 

I must make this moment precious

For it will never come again.

And I can never be content with things

That might have been.

Kind words I fail to say this day

May ever be unsaid,

For I know not how short may be the path          

That lies ahead.

 

The unkindest thing I do today,

May never be undone,

And friendship that I fail to win

May nevermore be won,

I may not have another chance

On bended knee to pray

And thank God with a humble heart

For giving me this day

 

I may never see tomorrow,

But this moment is my own

It’s mine to use or cast aside;

The choice is mine, alone.

I have just this precious moment

In the sunlight today.

Where the dawning of tomorrow

Meets the dusk of yesterday.                              

 

 Jez Thomas

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Firstly, Id like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and talk to you today.

When Father Mark, first approached me regarding the Lent sermons, my initial reaction was, “mmm… thanks, but no thanks.” I mean, I’d love to help in any way that I can, but Why me? What do I have to offer? What am I doing that could help inspire others to do likewise?

I spent a considerable amount of time as a primary school teacher and so, It makes a refreshing change to speak to an audience over the age of eight, who aren’t trying to undo my laces as I speak. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will pay any more attention… after all, it can be very difficult to listen on times, especially when we don’t know what we are listening for, or looking for, for that matter.

Whenever I think of listening skills and observation, it reminds me of my very first year one class. I had been a teacher for around 10 years, and had survived with some pride intact. I believe I may have even made a difference to my previous pupils. I thought that I was a pretty decent teacher if truth be told.

But I wasn’t quite ready for Year 1!

On my very first day, I found myself surrounded by 30, tiny, and thoroughly mischievous five year olds. The morning was a triumph in that there were still 30 children for afternoon registration. Thrilled to have survived a whole morning, I enthusiastically marched into class for an inspirational afternoon session; where I would observe the children in their activities… to look for ways of nurturing the academic and social needs of each and every child in the days ahead. I wasn’t really one for note taking, but the time to stop and watch, to observe and to listen were invaluable. Indeed, it was an essential part of teaching. It was, however, in that session that I truly learned what an awful listener I was. At 3:30 that afternoon I had to hand the children back to their parents and one had managed to paint himself blue and cut his tie in half.  With that in mind, why on earth would anybody listen to me?

Well, my teaching days are now over as my journey took rather a different direction.  So ties are once again safe and I’m sure that fewer children in Abergavenny are painted like Smurfs. I have been working as a full time professional artist for several years. I traditionally paint rather detailed and intricate images of industrial towns or fairy-tale inspired quirky illustrations with a distinct narrative. I am in a most fortunate position, as I truly love my job. I love to draw, I love to paint, I love to create. How lucky I am to be doing what I love for a living.

But in truth, I have always felt that I needed to do more, to contribute more, to do my duty for God. It is a burning ambition, a yearning that is unyielding, despite my trying not to listen for so long. In some ways I actively turned my deaf ear to God, and carried on regardless. I didn’t want to hear. It can be so much easier to live in ignorance some may say. It may certainly seem a little less risky, less challenging… the easier path. How many of us actively turn the deaf ear? To pursue our own ambitions, to do what WE think is best. I think for some time I was that little child with the plastic scissors and the blue paint brush and it was only a matter of time before my 3:30

Well, my 3:30 did come, and it was as loud as the school bell… as a teacher, the school bell… (especially the 3:30 one), was the loudest and absolutely the most welcome noise of the day. This 3:30 was a very welcome wake up call.

I find it fascinating how things pan-out… I often use the statement, things happen for a reason, and I’ve heard many others use it too. And so I’ll use it again… isn’t it funny how things seem to happen for a reason?

If I think about the last couple of years, it was the ‘little Footprints group’ that introduced my family to the Anglican churches of Abergavenny. Despite visiting lots of churches in the area, it was the Anglican Community that made us feel at home. We sensed a tolerance for others and an inclusivity in its ethos. We waited for a long time to find the right door, and were very pleased when it finally opened.

As C.S. Lewis once said,

The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise.”

It was in a sermon several months ago that Father Mark challenged the congregation to use their skills for God. He called upon everyone to use their gifts for the purpose that they were given. His sermon stuck in my mind… they often do. He planted a seed and I felt duty-bound to help it to grow.

How many times I had said that I wanted to paint religious art I cannot count. But I never really had the courage to do it… I mean, not everyone is so tolerant of those with faith and sometimes it can be a little difficult to ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ Also I had built a business out of my painting and I didn’t want to risk alienating those who had put many years and investment into my art. It all sounds a little cowardly I know. until I started to listen again. People often said I had a talent, some said I had a ‘gift’, but I never really thought that what I was doing was very good at all, I certainly didn’t deserve such compliments. I have been extremely lucky that others have seen potential in what I do.

The realisation was that it was my duty to do God’s work, and to do it  through the passion that he or she has given me to draw. It seemed right that I should be telling the story of Jesus through my work and that I should paint with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now I’m not saying that I have solved the puzzle yet… I’m still a trifle deaf… but I am learning to listen, and to find most noise in the quietest of places. I am looking for the Holy Spirit in all that I do, I am asking for guidance, through prayer, meditation and devotion. I am praying to be a vessel for God and to help share His glory. 

This brings me to the new project that I am working on. Over the next couple of years I am aiming to tell the story of the combined Gospels (and a little from Acts), in chronological order. As each image is completed it will be added to the collection within St Mary’s Church. And when they are finished, I am hoping to take them on a tour around the country, and maybe even a little further afield. I am hoping that they will be displayed within churches and chapels of all denominations, but most importantly, in more innovative places, like pop up shops and open spaces… places which may be accessible to those who wouldn’t usually visit a church. I am hoping to inspire that one other sheep, somewhere, wherever it may be, to come home and join the 99, and that the 99 that are already here will find joy in them also. The images tell only a tiny part of the story, as Father Tom has written poems that enrich them so much more.

This poem relates to the Annunciation of Mary:

Let it Be

The dappled shade of knowledge

Dances like freckles on the innocence of my cheek.

Eyes closed, still I can see the sun burnt on my retina.

The dawn that will break over all things

Cannot be shut out.

I can feel the warmth spread over my skin

The delight of its rays sinking beneath, rejoicing into my flesh and bone.

As if all creation were to be willing life,

calling it forth from the recesses of the earth where it has lain cold and dead.

The Sun who holds his court,

commands the planets dance and wheels the stars

and even in this cosmic ballet of giants, titans and kings,

Life: something so small inside me stirs in answer to the dance.

What shadow is this that brings no cool shade but touches my inmost being?

The warm and heavy scent of

Human skin, and hair, warm earth and life itself,

all so irresistible under the spring sun that even the Almighty will take it up.

Between two trees the virgin dances and life blossoms into all its fullness,

And our salvation knit within his mothers womb

takes up the breathing and rooted cross of his flesh.

Let it be, irresistible life. Let it be.

 

I have found in life that it is when I am in the greatest of despair that I feel closest to God. Maybe, when I have needed Him most, I have actively sought His help. And he has been there. But now from a place of comfort I seek Him more and more, and I feel his presence. A friend once told me that the Holy Spirit was a bit like a sweet. It feels so good to have that sweet, but then, you can feel like it has gone and you need another, so you want to keep looking for the next. With that in mind, I keep looking and listening for the rustle of the wrapper. I am grateful that many of those around me have pocketfuls of sweets and have continued to feed me. I am thankful for their guidance, critique and support.

I was asked to talk to you today about how I do God’s work and to encourage you all to do the same. We all have a duty to do God’s work and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit I believe that we all have the potential to do that work. The biggest barriers are the ones that we construct ourselves. I am actively trying to break my own barriers and would encourage you to do the same.

 

 Liz Brown

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Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
James chapter 1. verse 17
A talent is something that you are instinctually born with that gives you unique skills and abilities.  Talent is set apart from knowledge in that it is  not a learned behaviour, although it can be strengthened and practiced. The Bible tells us that we are all born
with distinct talents and gifts that set us apart from each other.When you discover
the talents that God has given you and you use them to glorify Him, you will experience a full life! Our loving Lord wants us to feel whole and complete, and it is through talents that we can find our unique calling in life! Every good gift comes from above.
I started sewing at a young age , made my first dress when I was 12, sewing was a hobby but came into it’s own when my husband Johnny died and I was left to bring up my 2 youngest children. I had 3 jobs to keep them in school uniforms. School fees & health
care. Teaching patchwork, morning, noon and night, window dressing on a Saturday morning, and a regular job as a knitwear designer.
I was born and brought up in Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe, and translocated here
wrapping my precious bits and pieces in fabrics  -that is how I got them out!
And the fabrics go back to the 1920’s! I still have connections in Zimbabwe and started
The Harare Patchwork and Quilting Group- which is still going. Last count there were 74
that attended a meeting! Everyone needs to be creative even in dire times. Eleven years ago I started The O.O.A.P.’s (out of Africa Patchworkers ) and we started making patchwork quilts , not only did we learn new designs but we sent the quilts out to Zimbabwe to the Shearly Cripps Children’s home for orphans.. so having a gift we give it back.
Think of the wonderful gifts God has given us! Life and the promise of eternal life!
The fundamental gift that we have been given is the gift of creation. And the ability to appreciate it. So what do you do with your hands? – Flower arranging? Gardening? Decorating? Painting? Sewing? Writing ? Cooking ?Playing music?
But whatever your hands find to do , do it with all your might.
Voice? -Singing? Talking eloquently?Teaching? Lecturing? Preaching?
Reaching out to folk..Volunteering? Touch? -comforting? Caring?
Ears? -listening?
I remember someone was very disturbed when I asked them “what do you do with your hands?”, but she was a very good actress and so that is what her gift was!
I love doing ecclesiastical work, wall-hangings, fabric mosaics .
The research I find particularly interesting ,informative. A learning curve.
And the materials I use are interesting in themselves.Colours of course plays a big part.
And one of the many gifts from God is our sight.,
But with my gifts of drawing and sewing , I give them back, the  monies I have received either go to help build a community centre on my daughter Theresa’s farm in Zambia ,
or go to our lovely church  of St Peters, Llanwenarth Citra.
And God is good, when I have finished one project He sends me another!
As you know I have recovered from the Big C, Through prayer and care that is why I am here. And I thank you all for your prayers and supplications.
And I think that is why I am still here to do more work for Our Lord.
There are some visual aids of my work. [ When Liz spoke they were on display fo all to see. ] As you will see I have used minute pieces of Fabric to create the whole – Nothing is wasted. I hate waste! I pick up something and say to myself now what can I do with this?!
Look at the sheep’s head -made from eggshells! And then this quilt-the reverse is made from cotton flour bags, and the front animals embroidered by the Malambo woman’s Group , on the farm next door to Theresa ‘s farm. I love them! They are so naive
And we can never get them again, as the women will become more educated and sophisticated .
As King Solomon contemplated the meaning of life, He offered 2 recommendations.
First we are to live in the most meaningful way we can. Which includes fully enjoying the good things God Allows us to experience in life. Such as food, drink, clothing, perfume, marriage and all Gods good gifts.
His second recommendation was diligent work. Life is full of opportunities,
and there is always more work to be done. We are to take advantage of the opportunities that God gives us . Seeking His wisdom on how to prioritise work and play in a way that uses our gifting to serve Him. Life is a wonderful gift from the Lord. We honour Him when we take pleasure in His daily blessings and In meaningful service.
The point is, you DO have a gift to use in the service of Christ. We cannot bemoan the gifts that we lack. Nobody is perfect. We must find what gifts we do have and rejoice in them, being convinced that the only important thing in our work for Christ is the glory of
God, not how much we impress others or how rare our gift may be.
 
Lord, give me each day the wisdom to see which things are important,
and which things are not. Show me how best to use the time and talents
you have given me. Help me to use all my opportunities wisely, that I may share,
through service to others, the good gifts I have received from you.
I encourage you to look inwards at yourself and discover your talents-
unless you have already done so . We all have different gifts, but we must make
sure we use our gifts. For as Ben Franklin said, “What good is a sundial in the shade?”

Diana Williams

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Having told us that we need to experience Godly-play to fully understand it she continued;

As a young child, I knew and experienced God in a very real way although I didn’t know much about God. When my world seemed frightening or overwhelming, I remember lying in the darkness holding tightly onto a cross I had found for comfort. Although I couldn’t articulate it, I had a profound sense of something so much bigger than me, a divine power of goodness, love and protection who stayed with me in my dark nights.  When I was older, I would sneak to the chapel to escape the pressures of school life and in that oasis of silence and light, I would experience that same sense of enfolding presence, which comforted and strengthened me so I could face the world again. From a young age I went to Sunday school where there was certainly love and dedication but the approach was formulaic and seemed disconnected to the God I had experienced so vividly.

Fast forward many years and I am now teaching Sunday school myself, trying to be dynamic and exciting but finding I was just getting weary and deflated. I felt the responsibility of the children’s spiritual wellbeing was dependent entirely on me being entertaining/engaging enough and finding new ways to wrap up a teaching point in fun, glue and glitter. I honestly didn’t feel up to the job and really, amid all the high octane activity, there was little space for God at all. Whilst I felt compelled to stay on the messy and profound, rollercoaster journey of accompanying children in their spiritual growth, I also really needed to find a new approach.

When I first read about Godly Play I was curiously drawn to it – it sounded slightly odd but strangely compelling. Seeing God in any context of play or laughter was utterly beyond my convent girl experiences so I was dutifully suspicious. Was this just a superficial, childish approach to children’s work? Did God know how to play? Come to think of it, did I really know how to play? Could God and I play together? This was a new, unexpected, and rather exciting sort of God.

All my concerns melted away the moment I actually experienced my first session. We were welcomed at the threshold and invited to sit on the floor in a circle. The storyteller then presented the story of the Abraham to us, telling it by heart using beautiful props of wood, sand and stones. It was utterly absorbing to watch and listen to the arc of footsteps develop in the sand as Abram and Sarai made their long, hot journey of trust through the desert from Ur, to Haran and finally Hebron and the cool shade of the oaks of Mamre. For the first time I really experiencedthe desert and I felt I was there too, part of the story of the people of God, holding onto God’s promises even when they sounded impossible. Following the story we wondered together about it, then were given time for our own creative response. Here there was no right answers, no action songs, no show and tell or pre-prepared crafts, just the power of community, storytelling, creativity and the freedom to experience the story and God for ourselves. We then joined back together for a symbolic feast and a time of farewell. During that extraordinary hour I had a kind of damascene moment where I felt ‘this is it!’ Here, at last, was a sense of the God I had felt all those years back whilst clinging onto my cross in bed after a miserable day at school. Here was the God of power and mystery, an elusive hide and seek God who came close to people, but still took them into the desert. Here was a God I could find in the depths of a sacred story, in the playful upside down-ness of the parables and in the deep mysteries of our liturgical actions. And woven into all of Godly Play is the gift of silence, times to process and wonder when the mystery of the story is too great for words.

I soon began borrowing stories sets and trying it out for myself. As I progressed, I experienced profound relief that now I had found a way of doing Sunday school that meant I didn’t have to think of something new each week and frantically cut out some pre-prepared craft each Saturday night, but could now rely on beautifully scripted stories and a structure that gave time and space for God to come in, something that was enriching for the children and for me at the same time. Through learning the story scripts by heart, I found them to be a deep source of wisdom and comfort on my own spiritual journey. Through this work I discovered the Good Shepherd afresh as he led the children and me to the good grass, to the cool, fresh waters and where there were places of danger, he showed us how to go through. Truly, it felt, and still feels, God given.

Slowly I began to develop my own Godly play classroom and started to run session for local schools as well as for Sunday school and was humbled time and again by the depth of wondering and insight the children came up with. This part of my work, actually sitting and wondering with the children, has always been the best part of all I do and keeps me going through the tough bits. Finally and long overdue, I went to train properly. Whilst on the course, I had an unexpected, yet very clear sense that one day I too would be training others in Godly Play. Considering I was in the presence of the two founders of Godly play UK and renowned experts in children’s spirituality this seemed ridiculously presumptuous, but that feeling remained with me through the course and beyond. A few years later I was indeed invited to apply for the training to become a trainer, so trusting God rather than my own ability, I took up the opportunity and finally qualified 4 years ago. It was really tough training and demanded everything of me but was the start of a whole new chapter in my life. Shortly after, with real trepidation, I began to assist and then lead training courses.

The teaching element of what I do is rewarding and demanding in equal measure. Part of the joy is that the groups are often extremely ecumenical and yet far from this causing division it not only doesn’t matter but often adds hugely to the richness of the discussions. To be part of such a unified, global grassroots movement has been an incredible privilege. I have met people on courses from all walks of life and from all over the world who so often inspire me with their enthusiasm and desire to bring this approach to the people they work with and care for. Being a trainer has been an amazing privilege and taken me to places, allowed me to meet people and do things I never imagined I would do. It has led me far out of my comfort zone and but by holding onto the fact that this is God’s work not mine, I have discovered courage and ability I didn’t know I had.

So why do I do what I do? Well, I was initially motivated largely out of a concern for my own children’s spiritual wellbeing. But as time went on, I became ever more passionate about Godly Play and the role it has in children’s spiritual nurture. I had and still have a deep sense that this is work I am called to and though I don’t always feel it, recognise that God has given me the tools I need to carry it out. I also feel a real drive to help transform the thinking around childhood spirituality which I believe has the power to greatly enrich not only children’s lives, but the whole church and people of all ages. We hold the spirit of the child, our own child, in each one of us, no matter how old we are and the call to come and play with God is timeless.

Although it has been traditional in the church to view children as ‘empty vessels’ needing to be filled by adults with knowledge aboutGod, research now shows that children are in fact innately spiritual from birth,  and, although not able to articulate it in traditional religious language, already have a profound sense of God and rich experiences of Him. We are spiritual before we are religious. I found a lovely story recently about a small boy at Mass when at the time of consecration, when the priest held up the sacrament and all was hushed, expectant silence, the previously quiet child shouted out with great gusto ‘Hellooo Jesus!’ When everyone turned to look, he realised he had an audience and called ever louder ‘Hellooooo Jesus!’ Whether you would see this as a moment of utter embarrassment or total delight depends on your perspective but here was the warm welcome of a small child who had taken the story of Jesus seriously and who understood what was happening in a way we can often miss. His was a fresh shout of praise amid the predictable. How often do children give us the gift of the unpredictable, to shake us awake and show us things afresh that we had forgotten how to see?

As we know, Jesus says in the gospel that to enter the kingdom of heaven we need to be like little children.  But what does it really mean to be a child? Clearlywe need childrento help us with this. In Godly Play there is a profound awareness of this spiritual interdependence between children and adults. We in turn can help the children by taking their spiritual needs seriously and by being truly open to them. Being open like this just might allow aspect of children and their way of knowing God to re-enter us too and teach us things we had forgotten that we knew. This work has certainly helped me to not only know children in a new way, but also Jesus too.

Children are a blessing simply by being children. This is their work and gift to us and the church. Children are imaginative, inquisitive and often delightfully unconcerned with providing the ‘right’ answer. This makes them hugely open to finding new perspectives and meaning in apparently well-worn stories and I have genuinely been spiritually enriched and learnt so much from their insights. Although they don’t yet have a specific religious‘language’, they do have the languages of story and play and, through using these in Godly play, children can learn a new kind of religious language to help them making meaning in their lives, and bring theirexperiences of God and the God of the church closer together.

The play element of Godly play is a serious matter because play is such an essential part of our lives – it matures us when we are young and makes us young again when we are old. Real play helps us see things in a new light and can be about exploring who we really are. Play truly is a window onto a child’s soul and it is perhaps their most profound and important work. A great deal of seriously playful and playfully serious work happens during Godly play sessions.

So how do we see all this in the context of our theme of gifts?  If gifts are something that you are naturally good at without an effort then I cannot claim that what I do is a gift. If it is something we have the passion for but have to work hard at to develop, then perhaps we can see it in that way.  I do know that what I do is just one example of the incredible array of gifts that the church body has to offer the world. We all have gifts to give and build on and they are all equally valuable. What I do only works because I am entirely dependent on the gifts of others – the founders of Godly Play, the wisdom of other trainers, the disabled workshop which makes many of the story materials, the practical and emotional help of husband and the support and encouragement of so many in the church.

Getting to this point of the journey has been a bumpy road, full of joys and tears, darkness and light, times of closeness to God and times of great aloneness. The struggles I have experienced have been both internal and external. Physically it can be hard work, carrying desert bags, the travelling and long days. At times I feel overwhelmed, inadequate and exhausted by juggling all the demands of life. I have certainly faced many challenges along the way but I am learning to recognise that these struggles are an intrinsic and even important part of my journey and they have certainly brought me closer to and more dependent on God. In some ways, they have become part of this gift. I have learnt so much about TRUST in this role – trusting the process, my vocation and most of all God. This trust allows me to do my part and then ‘get out of the way’ as it were and let God be in charge.  Time and again, I experience God’s mercy as I find myself renewed and refreshed by the process itself and there are moments when there is such rich wondering, such thick silence and deep play that, like the line in chariots of fire, I can almost feel God’s pleasure.  This work has been for me a pearl of great price and I am trusting God that some of the seeds I am sowing will fall on good ground helping other grow and discover a God of play, creativity and wonder for themselves. I’d like to close by offering you the Godly Play prayer:

May the Good Shepherd who knows all of the sheep by name, lead you to the good green pastures and stay with you through the times of desert. May you find your pearl of great price, and know that you journey with the people of God, who are as many as the stars in the sky and grains of sand in the desert.

Amen

 

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