Divinely ordained present giving

For those in the church, we are rapidly heading towards the season in which hundreds of people are ordained into the ministry. In the Church of England, this is usually at Petertide (the end of June/beginning of July in regular parlance) while for Methodists it’s at the annual conference held at almost exactly the same time. Like baptisms and confirmations, ordination is a time for cards (and, if so inclined) gifts. The problem is, as with other religious occasions, the type of fare offered commercially is a little on the cheesy side – so thinking outside the box is imperative.

As someone who got done last year, and who has also (by virtue of being the kind of person I am) known a lot of friends/family to get ordained, I have much experience in this field – so I thought I’d share some wisdom. [Note: I happen to have my ordination as priest next month. This post is in NO way a wishlist for that occasion – presents are not required! But lovely, obviously…]

1. Cards

Christian cards are generally naff, plus, unlike baptisms and confirmations, you’re unlikely to find ordination cards anywhere but Christian bookshops/cathedral shops. That’s ok. The occasion is not in the least bit diminished if the card does not bear the word ‘ordination’ on the front of it. I believe that you can write it on the inside instead…

Dave Walker ordination

In the past, I’ve had permission from the lovely Dave Walker to use one of his cartoons as the basis for a card. (Which is what I did for my year at college when I didn’t get ordained with them.) Or, you could craft your own. What I think is brilliantly effective though, is a card bearing an image of the place where the ordination is happening or the region to which they will be serving. I received loads of St Paul’s cathedral cards – which now form part of a London gallery on my living room wall. (All the others are in a journal from my ordination retreat, so think carefully about what you write in your card as it’s likely to be treasured.)

London gallery wall(Yes, I am aware that some of these are wonky. It’s been fixed.)

2. The ordination retreat

Some people reading this know of my long journey to ordination and the trauma that was involved. Getting to my pre-ordination retreat was nothing short of a miracle from an ever-faithful God!! Just before my retreat, I received a parcel from a college friend that contained a package or envelope to be opened on each day that I was sequestered. It was amazing! It contained spiritual things (cards, prayers) as well as comforting things for a time that was quite stressful – like a G&T lip balm and chocolate. Plus a gorgeous pair of earrings that I wore to the ordination. Other people sent cards to be opened on retreat (including one that was slipped under my door by a friend who lived down the road from the retreat centre) and others that were waiting for me when I arrived.

Tess' retreat giftsGifts from Tess.

3. Ordination gifts

There are lots of things to say about gifts. Firstly, they are an added bonus!! Also, if you’re a friend of mine, please do not get offended if I don’t mention your gift from last year! I had lots of amazing gifts, many of which were personal to me and my interests, so don’t necessarily need to be recommended here. What follows are purely suggestions, but hopefully might provide some inspiration if you’re stuck for ideas!

Gifts inspired by the location of the ordination. For Anglicans at least, the place in which they are ordained holds great significance, so (as with cards) can provide great inspiration for presents. This might take the form of a picture, or something even more creative – like the necklace given to me by my missional community that bears the coordinates of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Comfort Station NecklaceAmazing gift accompanied by hand-drawn depiction of St Paul’s. I have awesome friends.

Anything connected to Dave Walker’s fabulous Church Times cartoons. (Although you may need to be wary as any ordinand worth their salt would already have some items!) There are: books, calendars, mugs (these are new-ish and there are 11 designs to choose from – they couldn’t possibly have all of them!) and tea towels.

Something practical. I would suggest that, unless you’ve had a prior conversation with the ordinand, you do not buy them a piece of liturgical dress – like a stole. These items are highly personal and often planned long in advance of the ordination. [Disclaimer: I was given a Fijian stole by a close family friend and it’s lovely – I have a plan for it – but my white ordination stole was a legacy from my mother and has a very special story attached to it.] But, a genius gift took the form of ‘Revd Liz Clutterbuck’ name tapes complete with rainbow lettering! Clergy vestries are confusing places and our vestments cupboard contained items belonging to four or five different people when I started work!

Clerical nametapesWho knew you could need nametapes in adult life too?!

Books. Do not buy them a Bible! Any self-respecting ordinand will have Bibles coming out of their ears by this point (and is likely to be given one by the diocese too), so unless they’ve asked for a specific translation/edition, don’t do it. What may be useful, but is worth checking, is whether they’d like liturgical books – Church House Bookshop do an ordinand bundle deal for Church of England ordinands, but you can usually only get it as the ordinand themself – but offering to pay might be a nice thing. (Although it’s covered by ordination grants if they get one.) Ordinands: set up a wishlist if there are particular books or commentaries you’d like. Don’t be bashful – it’s better to have something ready in answer to the question of ‘what would you like for your ordination’ than ending up with multiple commentaries on the book of Revelation! Friends of ordinands: if there’s been a particularly meaningful book in your spiritual journey, that could be a great gift.

Sustenance for their time off. I don’t mean food, I mean the ability to enjoy their time off well. One friend was given some money when they started theological college that was specifically so she could buy gin – and it’s been a great help to her! There are all sorts of subscription services that could be an excellent comfort to the newly ordained – from gin, to tea, via magazines (not Christian ones!), music, cinema tickets or a niche membership (in London, a membership for the South Bank, BFI or similar is a boon!). Life after ordination takes adjusting to and time off is just as important as time on!

Boomf OrdinationMarshmallow ordination goodness. Brilliant.

Post-ordination gifts. You don’t need to give the present on the day! Lovely photos from a special day make a great gift, or you could get creative with your photos. My friend Jenni went with photos of my ordination (and first week at church) on marshmallows. Yes, marshmallows! (Courtesy of Boomf.) I can testify to their being tasty too.

Hopefully something amongst the above will have proved to be inspiration for the ordinand in your life! To be honest, your presence will be present enough – and if you’re not at the service, your prayers will be appreciated enormously.

Huge thanks go to my incredible friends and family whose generosity, love and sense of humour ensured that I had something to suggest on this topic in the first place!! [Remember: priesting gifts = not essential!]

Friday Fun for the festive season

It’s the final Friday before Christmas and most people are celebrating the end of work before the festivities. So hopefully the following will get you through the last hours, or may be of some comfort on long journeys to far-flung families…

Firstly, an advent gem that will provide a lot of joy if you haven’t come across it as yet. Dave Walker (of Church Times and my trip to Uganda fame) has put his energy into a highly entertaining advent calendar of cartoons – so there’s still a few to go. The Christmas Newsletter was a particular favourite amongst family and friends. (I cannot wait to get my hands on the basket of missives the Clutterbuck family has received when I get to Belfast on Monday! Nor can I wait to read my parents’ screed, just in case they’ve written about me…)


They aren’t all hilarity-filled, some have a great deal of pathos and should make you stop and think – like this Foodbank themed one. It certainly feels apt as I look ahead to my shift at our Foodbank tomorrow morning, and continue to seethe at the way in which the government treated the debate on Foodbanks the other day.


In preparation for the holiday season, I’m gathering together some festive films to watch en route to Ireland (hello four hour train journey & two hour ferry crossing). The Muppet Christmas Carol is a favourite and was actually shown the last time I caught a ferry for Christmas, but how many of these 14 facts about the film did you already know? Most fascinating for me was the way in which the Ghost of Christmas Past was created, via a submerged Muppet and a green screen. Oh, and it includes the video of the scene that was excluded from the theatrical release on the basis that it was too sad for children (phooey) – a move that caused consternation on the release of the DVD version as its VHS predecessor had included it. Those of us who made the technological transition mourn its loss on every viewing. Oh, and the list is correct, It Feels Like Christmas *is* one of the best Christmas songs ever. Get that soundtrack added to your Christmas playlist asap!

The other holiday classic (though rather more controversial, as it’s essentially the Marmite of Christmas films) is the 10 year old Love, Actually. This isn’t ideal public transportation viewing on account of the naked stand-ins scenes (fellow travellers may think you’re watching something dodgy), but it does make you feel warm and fuzzy. Some bright spark at Buzzfeed has definitively ranked all the turtlenecks that feature in the movie. It’s a surprisingly high number of a fashion item that I don’t recall being particularly popular in 2003, but that makes it all the more hilarious. Number 10 is a particularly good one:

Love Actually turtle-necks

Of course, it’s important to remember the reason for the season too! At our family carol service last Sunday (in which I gave my first-ever all-age sermon, because that wasn’t a high-pressure occasion on which to do it…) we shared this beauty from St Paul’s Auckland. Since 2010, the New Zealand church (planted by my former church) has gained a reputation of producing utterly fabulous Christmas videos for their carol service – which takes place in an arena, with glow-sticks. Their 2012 offering was downright glorious and gave me an excellent theme for my sermon:

I cannot get over the joy of hearing “They won’t be expecting that!” in a Kiwi accent! The morning of our service was the evening of their carol service, at which their 2013 video debuted. It’s a little different from previous ones, but worth a watch nonetheless.

Finally, a piece of ridiculous seasonal music which manages to combine Christmas and musical theatre – Wicked, specifically. I give you Defying Gravity, as sung by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It’s a little niche, but it is possibly the best use I’ve seen of the Wicked Backing Tracks (I only my copy for moments when I like to prance around pretending that I am actually a West End star).

Gathering Women

Just as the world is divided along gender lines; so the Christian world is divided as to whether single-sex gatherings are a good idea. Some men might scorn a curry and football night, while many women would run in the opposite direction from a women’s prayer breakfast hosted by someone clad in a twinset and pearls. [In fact, there was an interesting debate to this effect on Dave Walker’s blog some time ago.] 
Personally, I love a good women’s gathering (it’ll be that single-sex education/Guide career kicking in again). I like being in a safe-space to discuss issues relating to women (no, I don’t mean Mooncups) and being amongst women who are facing similar questions and dilemmas in life. At my last church, I liked that they weren’t pink and fluffy (both the event and the women) and that it was a rare chance to be lead in worship by someone who sang in a key I could sing in too. However, I draw the line at female events where there is a plethora of pink, pearls and pashminas and where I’ll learn how to support my husband in his ministry. Ergh. 
Fortunately, the women’s gathering for which I gave up my Saturday involved no pink fluffiness. (There were pashminas, but only because the church was so flipping cold!) It brought together Christian women in leadership – it wasn’t just vicars (in fact they were in the minority), or even those in leadership of churches – all sorts of women in leadership roles were there. We weren’t there to men bash, or to stir up a feminist revolution; it was simply about networking, discussing what works against women in the world (including women themselves), the theology of women in leadership and being in solidarity with one another. 
During the day, I found myself re-telling the story I told in a blogpost written nearly a year ago, about how I was increasingly having to label myself and act more like a feminist – particularly since starting ordination training in the Church of England. Little has changed since that post was written. I still find myself banging the drum for women at college and in the CofE and just yesterday, I had to point out to a colleague that the ‘girls’ on staff were just as capable of moving chairs as the ‘boys’ on the team he’d asked to help (clearly I need to show him photos of me building scaffolding). Certain male colleagues have also worked out that ironic sexist comments are a sure fire way of winding me up – and thus make them on a regular basis. I ask the questions that enable men in leadership to realise that a simple tradition (like men serving the bread and women serving the wine at communion in our church) actually appears to undermine women in leadership (as a result,  last week’s female servers were specifically asked to do it). Most of all, I’m intentionally seeking out women who are also fighting their corner who I can learn from and be in solidarity with – so this gathering was ideal. 
I met some fabulous women who are already friends and made some new ones too. I made a connection with a fellow vicar-in-training who’s training with a good chum of mine. Tweeters were identified and inspiring stories heard – oh, and the sauna dilemma was discussed with amusement. Most of all, I realised yet again that I’m not alone in a world that can often seem entirely dominated by men. I could wax lyrical about the specific nature of the discussions and presentations (which were great) but the best thing about the day was the people, their stories and their willingness to share them. Whether these women would have been happy to share them in a mixed context is an interesting question – I suspect some would have been reticent – which is why such gatherings are really important.
It struck me at the end of the day that my feminist rant of a post last year was inspired by something Jenny Baker had written, so it seems only appropriate that she – along with Wendy Beech-Ward – were to thank for getting these women together. If you’re a woman in leadership and want to get involved in the next gathering, let me know…

Two videos and two valuable lessons

Last week, when I reviewed Happy Birthday Jesus, I mentioned the St Chad’s Nativity video and said that if it appeared on YouTube, I’d share. Voilà:

Very kindly, Dave Walker linked to my review on both Twitter and his blog, resulting in lots and lots of visitors – making me feel rather warm and fuzzy. (Actually, when I made the latter discovery I was in the pub celebrating the end of work and commiserating with a departing colleague, so some of the fuzziness may have been wine related.) I probably should make my ‘real’ life a little more fulfilling given that gaining validation from blog visits/comments is rather pathetic.

However, there is one rather humbling/cringeworthy aspect of this attention. After some internal debate, I decided to mention in passing an online dating adventure within that review. I guess I shouldn’t be embarrassed by this, but the realisation that it was a component of my second most popular post of all time was somewhat mortifying. Then I realised the individual concerned had without question read the post and I inwardly cringed. Ho hum.

Internet lesson #1: Do not blog about things that you don’t want people to know about. Simple really.

Internet lesson #2: Do not befriend people on Twitter about whom you have said things that you may not want them to know about – or friends of people about whom you have made comment.

This second lesson leads me nicely to the second part of of this post. Last week was our Carol Service – an event of epic proportions and quite easily the highlight of my Christmas (if not the year). It’s always fabulous and singing in the choir is an awesome experience. This year was especially exciting owing to the guest appearance of the legendary a cappella ensemble The Swingle Singers (mentioned multiple times on this blog, not least because of their role in Glee’s incidental music). Showing up at church to sing at 9.15am on a cold Sunday morning is not pleasant, but they stunned us with their beautiful melodies at such an early hour, I think encouraging us to do our best to impress them with our performances.

One highlight was their rendition of O Holy Night (always one of my favourites), which I was delighted to find on YouTube last night – this version being from the morning’s Christingle Service (hence small children wandering around in tea towels):

This relates to lesson #2 because I found it owing to the fact that I follow both the group and one of its altos on Twitter. On the evening of the carol service I may have made some comment regarding the attractiveness of a bearded tenor (who happens to sing the solo above), which was spotted by one of the Swingles when I added them the following day and elicited a rather amusing tweet back. Oops. To quote the lovely Annabelle, I am a nit.

Thinking before posting is always valuable…

Happy Birthday Jesus

Last night was spent in amongst a group of middle class Christians watching middle class Christians taking the mick out of middle class Christians; in a church in the city under the name of Happy Birthday Jesus. It felt a bit wrong – not the company or activity, more the location.

As the entertainment was provided by the same people who make Last Orders at Greenbelt the fun-fest that it is, I had a weird sense that I really ought to be sat on the floor, feeling a trifle damp and while grateful for the warmth, concerned that I might fall asleep at any moment. [For the uninitiated, Last Orders begins at 11pm every night of the festival and takes place in Centaur – a massive venue with carpeted floor and some seats – something of novelty when camping.] It was also strange that most of the audience looked clean and were wearing relatively normal clothes, no tutus or ridiculous hats involved – oh, until Dave the Fairy turned up in a pink one complete with wand…

Earlier today, I was asked if I was going to blog a review of the evening. I don’t often get requests for blog themes, usually relying upon my own inspiration. Thing was, though I had various thoughts around the event, few were to do with the actual performance. Plus, I hadn’t taken any notes, so wasn’t sure if I’d reliably remember any of it. However, mid-way through writing this paragraph my sister rang and as I successfully re-told her one sketch, it seems that I can recall some of it.

Highlight #1 – The Shoe Box Sketch
Two do-gooding women of a variety possessed by every church in the land are giving a notice about this year’s shoe box appeal for young orphans of a flood in “that country in the news”. Do-gooder Verity knows just what it’s like to be flooded, because a couple of years ago her barn conversion in Gloucester suffered the same fate and they “couldn’t have any weekends chez rural for weeks” [hands down, possibly my favourite quote of the evening and may even go into regular usage]. Included in the boxes for boys (one lady had a Jimmy Choo box, “but a Clarks box like Verity’s will do too”) were a Lego Star Wars game for the Nintendo DS and a White Company scented candle. Verity was criticised for this latter item, being that boys don’t like candles – she pointed out that, having experienced a flood herself, she knew that anyone would be grateful for something that would get rid of the smell…

Highlight #2 – Rev. Gerald Ambulance’s prayers
His first prayer for “those less fortunate than ourselves” went out to The Methodists. That’s almost enough said (for those that know me well), but particularly amusing to me and an old colleague I’d bumped into at the interval who had just been quizzing me on that particular denomination. They need all the prayer they can get.

Highlight #3 – St Chad’s Nativity
If it ever gets on YouTube I’ll link to this beautifully comic video documentary of child actors and their nativity production. Genius performances, particularly from two boys – one a super serious actor playing a Wise Man and the other much less enthusiastic (unsurprisingly) about playing a sheep. The comic timing achieved with fairly small children was fantastic. [It is now on YouTube and I mention it again here.]

I should also mention – though I wouldn’t say it was a highlight – the regular appearances of Sir Cliff and his calendar. Literally a sight for sore eyes.

Now, onto the other stuff. A particular achievement was successfully saving myself from a potentially embarrassing encounter with someone I’d met at the last Greenbelt (at 1am, at the end of the festival and fairly delirious from lack of sleep) who I knew would be there.

When we’d last chatted (I say chatted, I may in fact have wittered at length) he had spent the entire conversation trying to work out how he recognised me, certain that we had met before. We hadn’t, but I might once have sent him an e-mail via a Christian dating site that he may or may not have replied to, and we might also have had a mutual friend who had then introduced us in person (she thought it would be funny to see what happened). Anyway, I was anxious not to repeat what was a fairly mortifying experience and was hopeful that he wouldn’t recognise me (for a start, I wasn’t wearing my uber attractive ‘camping occasions fleece’). He walked past me just as I was leaving and did a double-take, but thankfully didn’t stop to talk – potentially embarrassing encounter avoided.

Oh, and I finally got to meet the cartoon legend that is Dave Walker. Always a pleasure to see his cartoons in a very large format (i.e. PowerPoint) and I think they suit being read out loud more than he thinks they do. Actually, I think my Dad is actually more excited about this than I am – Dave’s cartoons truly brighten up his life (those poor vicars will clutch at anything to make their hard lives better) – and he’s been fascinated by the fact that we now communicate via Twitter (bless, this new technology confuses him a tad).

Lastly, the most amusing thing about last night actually happened weeks ago when notice of it first appeared. It resulted in possibly the funniest e-mail exchange I’ve had all year, getting progressively more and more ridiculous as the day wore on. Thing is, it’s so geekily embarrassing that I can’t share what we did – needless to say, it’s probably a good thing that my fellow e-mailer was too sick to come with me yesterday.