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!]

The First Nowell

There ought to be a badge for curates that declares: “I survived my first ordained Christmas!” – such is the achievement of getting through one’s very first festive season as a member of clergy. The services, the sermons, the lunches, the drinks parties, the children’s parties, the Christingle making, the carols…

I guess a part-time curate’s first Christmas could be considered slightly less of an achievement? Yes and no.

Yes, because I didn’t do the full slog of Christmas services. Thanks to still being a commuting curate, reliant upon London Transport (which ceases to exist from 9pm on Christmas Eve), I missed Midnight Mass. (Also thanks to there being two other clergy present to divide preaching and presiding between themselves.)

But I did preach my very first Christmas Day sermon – complete with photos of some gems from the Clutterbuck Nativities Collection, and a legendary pop diva in the congregation. [I kid you not on that last point. Fortunately I didn’t find out about that until after the service!] I travelled through deserted London streets courtesy of a Muslim taxi driver who spent most of the journey quizzing me on how to cook a turkey – as I’ve never cooked one, I really wasn’t much help, but did recommend Delia’s Christmas.

Inuit NativityFor some reason, the Inuit Nativity got a lot of laughs in my sermon…

Being part-time means that there’s an awful lot to pack into the two weekdays that I’m at the church. Which can have interesting consequences – like the December Wednesday when my very first school assembly (on King Herod & lying) was preceded by the over 60’s Christmas lunch. I love the over 60’s group! They’ve made me an honorary member of their coterie, and that allows me to attend their monthly lunches. The Christmas lunch was talked about for several weeks beforehand, with references to sherry and wine plentiful. On the day in question, we wrapped up our 10.30 midweek service a bit before 11.30 and immediately, out came the sherry. A particularly spritely 88 year old offered me a glass, insisting that I should have something, after all, assembly wasn’t till 3pm – I relented an asked for a very small glass. I’m not sure what a large would have looked like, as I was handed a regular wine glass that was two-thirds full of sherry! [Needless to say, it was not drained empty!]

Downside of being part-time? Missing some of the Christmas lunches. Upside? Not having quite so many enforced mince pie eating occasions!

To be honest, the biggest Christmas challenge was never going to be the work, but the fact that it was different to any other Christmas I’d had before. I’ve grown up with church-orientated Christmasses – where the priority was getting one, two, three or even four services done between Christmas Eve morning and Christmas dinner! I’ve been hauled into action on grey Christmas mornings to support parents’ leading worship – regardless of whether or not I was indulging in my semi-annual Christmas cold. But it turns out it’s rather different when it’s you that has the church to look after!

Christmas 2015 was the first Christmas I’ve ever spent away from all my family. It was the first Christmas that my parents would spend with neither daughter with them. A tad daunting, but I have amazing alternative families…

A campaign had been underway to get me to spend Christmas Day in Harpenden for over a year – and where better place to spend Christmas than with a family of people you’ve known for over half your life, and who appear to have had a near-identical upbringing! Christmas with the Kilverts was different to a Clutterbuck Christmas (fewer nativities for starters), but it was good different – including Christmas quizzing, Christmas cheese, Christmas present notebooks [still reeling from the organisation level displayed on this one], and the Queen. Yes, the Queen. For the first time IN MY LIFE I watched the Queen’s speech. And you know what? It was really rather good and something to be stored away for a future sermon illustration. Anyway, huge thanks to the Kilvert clan for trekking to Highbury on Christmas Day, being in my congregation, and then taking me home with you and making me feel so much a part of the family!!

The other alternative family was of course my London one. For a city whose population seems to flee in a mass exodus in the week leading up to Christmas, it was a surprise to discover that so many Matryoshka Haus-ites were in town over the holidays. Christmas Eve-Eve was spent enjoying great food with great company in the new building, while the following night was a lovely extended family meal at home. [Christmas: when three roast dinners in four days is considered not in the least bit excessive!] Celebrating Christmas with friends, my honorary niece & nephew [“aunty Liz” appears to be catching on as a moniker with the smallest housemates] was lovely and more than made up for the lack of actual family.

Oh, and I put Father Christmas to the test and won. Twice. Stocking gifts arrived from Belfast, and then on Christmas morning a Christmas miracle occurred! A stocking full of another set of presents arrived at my bedroom door. So it’s official, Father Christmas *does* exist!

Christmas Stocking

 

Well done fellow Deacons for surviving Christmas. Now, bring on Easter!

Born on the 4th of July

(I drafted this nearly 3 weeks ago – all it was lacking was photos. My life is so consumed by the new curacy & my still-to-be finished Masters that I just didn’t quite get around to finishing it! Apologies. Come September 18th, all will be back to normal – whatever normal is these days!) 

Yesterday, I celebrated the 34th anniversary of my birth. My birthday is not the 4th of July, it’s 26 days later on the 30th (or the 29th, depending on the time zone I’m inhabiting at the time).

But the 4th of July is when Reverend Liz Clutterbuck was ‘born’. As the sonorous tones of the Bishop of London echoed around both my head and St Paul’s cathedral, I was officially ordained.

The Moment of OrdinationPhoto: Graham Lacdao on behalf of London Diocese.

Lots of people I’ve seen since who weren’t there have asked how it went. Often, my first response is: “it was hot…” – and it was! The hottest week recorded in London is not a time to be wearing multiple layers of robes in a building that, though usually cool, warms up rapidly when filled with a few thousand people. Sweat was literally pouring off the faces of some of my fellow ordinands!

Mim & I on our way inMim & I on our way into the cathedral – before things got really sweaty! 

But obviously, it was so much more than just toasty. I’d been to two ordinations at St Paul’s in previous years, so I knew roughly what to expect in a practical sense. However, I was tripped up (literally) by some unseen (or unrealised) practicalities. Like processing & singing simultaneously; kneeling with a straight back for over 20mins; and wearing a cassock.

Oh, the cassock!! Why had no one warned me that practicing walking, kneeling, using stairs and acclimatising to cassock wearing would be necessary?!? The wearing of them at compline on our retreat was compulsory (apart from on the record temperature setting Wednesday) and kneeling practice was recommended afterwards. There’s a definite knack to kneeling in a way that actually means you can stand up without falling backwards. Categorically, I was more nervous at getting tangled in my cassock during the ordination moment than the ordination itself!!

View of the processionA view of the procession into the cathedral – courtesy of Duffy.

It was also lovely to have so many friends and family there too. While the absence of friends at a clashing wedding was mourned, it did enable me to open up my guest list. My genius idea of drawing a diagram of where I’d be amongst the ordinands & texting it to key individuals also paid off – as I turned to face the congregation immediately after the ordination moment, I saw my family and friends just ahead of me. My sister (one of my two ‘supporting friends’ & a gold ticket holder) sat immediately behind me, facilitating the passing of water and potentially inappropriate comments to me. As we processed up the cathedral’s steps, Duffy (of Chateau Duffy fame) appeared on his bike, cheered and proceeded to take a load of photos of a moment that no one inside the cathedral would ever see. Similarly, my lovely Gloucester neighbours were the first people I saw as the brand new Deacons emerged from the cathedral. Will & Juliet waved so madly that those nearby were moved to ask if they were mine!

The newest of London's DeaconsThe new Deacons of London Diocese (Photo:Graham Lacdao on behalf of London Diocese.)

The post-service scrum on the cathedral steps was just that – a chaotic scrum! So many people greeted me, including several that I’d not expected to see. My mum was moved to tears by the appearance of a long-time friend, unseen for a decade, who had been there to support another ordinand, but who had realised that I was there too. She was barely over that shock when I pointed out another friend (a 5th member of the family for several years, really) was there too. 

A glimpse of the scrum! (Thanks Sheenagh!)

Biggest regret? Not putting my hair up, given how hot it was. (I jest…kind of!) Definitely, not getting to chat properly with everyone who had made the effort to be there! My school friends from Gloucester & London; people from previous churches; the neighbours from Glos; my aunts… If you’re reading this, let me say again THANK YOU for coming! I really did appreciate it! A particularly heartfelt thank you goes to the lovely Bev who was instrumental in sorting out my post-service shindig, after things went rather wrong 2 days before.

And yes, The Hucklebuck was played at the party and yes, I did dance. In my vestments.

Oh, and if you were at the ordination service and heard the Bishop of London mention (three times) that there was a ‘lady cement mixer’ amongst the ordinands let the mysterious mixer reveal herself:

Lady Cement Mixer

To explain: our ordination forms had required us to write a short, ‘fun’ biog – so I threw in the fact that I could mix cement and scaffold. The Bishop appeared rather taken with this fact, as it appeared both in the service and in his Address to the Ordinands. During the service, ordinands a couple of seats away from me asked their neighbour if they knew who it was. I’m convinced that when I told them it was me they did not believe me one bit!! Amusingly, my mother was moved to wonder who the lady cement mixer was too – she thought it was a construction worker done good. If only…

All-in-all, it was a pretty epic day! There’s nothing quite like getting ordained in one of the most recognisable cathedrals in the world – and I am still incredibly grateful that it was made possible! Now, let’s say we do this again (albeit on a smaller scale) in June next year?

Lord of Time

Over a year ago, during the period of time when I was trying to work out what the 2014/15 academic year was going to look like, my ethics tutor approached me after evening prayer and said that a word had come to him during prayer which he felt was for me. He asked if I liked Doctor Who (I’m indifferent to it, but know enough to get a reference), and explained that he felt as though God was emphasising his role as the Lord of Time – or “Time Lord”. It was a clear reference to my being at the mercy of God’s timing, and was somewhat reassuring…

…only somewhat, because – as I explained last year – a curacy was not forthcoming. Instead, I made plans for further study and returned to St Mellitus to study a MA. But this year, these words came back. As I struggled to find the right curacy, it was a struggle to remember that God had the timing under control.

The words of one of my classmates also came back to me. At our final college residential last year, on the Sunday when I had come before college and explained that I didn’t know what I was going to be doing next year, she told me that she had a vision of me returning the following year, with an amazing story. As church after church failed to work out this year, I began to doubt that I would have a story for the class of 2015.

This year has been a struggle. Not finding the right curacy in good time for the second year running is not to be recommended. This isn’t the place to chronicle what happened – suffice to say, there were places that were not right; good decisions; bitter disappointments; and less good decisions. When ordinands who began their 2 year course AFTER you began the curacy process then find their curacies BEFORE you do, life can feel rather frustrating. (That might be an understatement!)

I didn’t entirely lose hope. I did trust that God had it under control. But it felt as though I was consistently hitting s brick wall. Come the first May bank holiday, and an annual Christian junket, I was without a curacy and rather low. While picking up a book at the junket, I ran into a 2014 Deacon and his wife, who, upon hearing of my situation, immediately prayed for me – on the street, in front of the Hammersmith Apollo. Within 24 hours, I’d received an email from the Bishop of Stepney regarding a very promising sounding post.

God had not forgotten! The post was indeed promising, and by the second May bank holiday, my curacy had been formally agreed. Sharing my news with the college chaplain – who was on the verge of crying with happiness – she declared: “God is faithful!” I replied: “…but slow.”

As a good friend retorted when she heard this story, God’s timing is not slow, it is perfect. We just don’t have any control over it and we don’t like it! Yes, maybe getting my curacy sorted out earlier might have avoided some issues (like some of my closest friends being absent from my ordination thanks to a mutual friend’s wedding). But would one of the earlier curacies have been the right place? Is the curacy I’m now taking up not the best thing that’s crossed my radar in the entire 22 months in which I was searching? No to the first question and yes to the latter.

Yesterday, I stood in front of the ordinands of St Mellitus College and shared an amazing story of God’s faithfulness. As I walked to the lectern, I was cheered to such an extent that I was nearly undone before I’d uttered any words. My ‘final’ Sunday of 2014 was redeemed, and in God’s timing, I am to be ordained at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 4th.

So where am I going? The green fields of North London!

A ‘N’ postcode for the first time since 2006 (another 3 years to add to my current total of 18 years up there). Specifically, the parish of Christ Church Highbury, upon Highbury Fields, deep in the heart of Arsenal territory.

It’s a part-time curacy, which is exciting. I’m not entirely sure what will make up the rest of my time (there’s a job interview on Wednesday for something that might work), but freelancing has worked very well for me this year, and God has provided exponentially. I won’t be moving there immediately – accommodation won’t be available until late this/early next year, but that’s a relief, given my need to write a thesis over the summer!

I’m also excited about the curacy itself. I’m looking forward to getting stuck back into church ministry after a year away (from church leadership, not church!), and entering the next phase of my training. There’s lots about Christ Church itself that I’m excited about too – more of which will follow…

But for now, it is with huge relief and great anticipation that I look forward to my very imminent ordination!!

Looking out at St Paul's, 2010Looking out at St Paul’s from Tate Modern, April 2010. (As used on my ordination invitations. With thanks to @notthatandym)

Revving it up

In the process of training for the priesthood, there a certain landmark moments:

  • Receiving your free Greek New Testament and Book of Common Prayer. (I likened it to the giving out of kittens in The Worst Witch. That may or may not be an appropriate analogy.) 
  • The first ordination (of other people) you attend having achieved ‘ordinand’ status.
  • Attending an ordination exactly a year before your own, watching people you’ve sat alongside in college wearing the full priestly regalia.
  • Receiving your interim report – the one that goes to your Bishop and potential curacies.
  • People beginning to confirm their curacies.

And then there’s the vestments fair…

There are no rides and no candy-floss, but there is an array of stands advertising and showing-off various clerical wares, from stoles and shirts to cassocks and surplices (and an awful lot in between). For many, this is a big moment – the first time they will don the clothes that in a few short months time will become their uniform. For others, in lower years, it’s an opportunity to witness familiar faces wearing unfamiliar outfits, and realise that one day that will be them too.

Ours took place on the last residential of the term, nearly a fortnight ago. Several companies crammed into HighLeigh’s old chapel and a host of apprehensive ordinands milled around cautiously examining their goods. I wasn’t actually going to go. Over lunch, I sat with a group of final year students who intended to band together in order to make the process less nerve-wracking. But I was intent on giving it a miss and spending some quality time in Hoddesdon instead (visiting Saver’s, it’s a residential tradition) – especially as I still don’t have a curacy to go to and therefore no idea of what my clerical outfitting requirements will be. [That’s a whole other, long, frustrating story which is not yet for this website.] Hilariously, I had a change of heart and ended up returning to my bedroom over an hour later clutching a cassock.

Yes, while everyone else was getting measured and placing orders, I found a cassock exactly in my size that was in the sale. The only snag was that to take advantage of it, I had to buy it there and then, finding room in my bag to get it back to London. [For the uninitiated, whatever your future church’s churchmanship, you will need a clerical shirt, cassock & surplice for ordination.]

Cassocked LizWhat you miss in this photo is the purple Converse peeking out from under the cassock’s folds. A good look I feel.

The moment when you see your friends wearing a dog-collar for the first time is very, very weird. There’s no getting over that. But the camaraderie is definitely a bonus – going it alone into the world of clerical clothing would be terrifying!

Revved up ordinands David in the jacket packed specific clothes for this occasion, so he could really look the part. That’s forward thinking!

On the train home on Sunday, I was talking about the fair with some first years who had popped into the fair just to see what things looked like. According to one of them, the moment when I emerged from the toilets clad in a cassock was a big moment. Not because it was hugely becoming, but because it was me, in a cassock – suddenly looking just like a vicar. We are all going to become clergy (God-willing) but it’s very easy to forget some of the practicalities that go with it…

The other discovery made at the vestments fair was just how awful some creations for female clergy are. I maintain that much female clerical wear is designed by men who are opposed to the ordination of women! It comes to something when the Dean of the college locates the worst of these and cheekily suggests that they might be perfect for you:

Fashionable Clerical threads I won’t name & shame, but the selection of shirts & models suggests that the catalogue hasn’t been updated since the early 1980’s.

Clerical shirts will be the breaking of me. I never wear blouses and unless Pepperberry brings out a clerical range, I’m determined to stick as much as possible to those bib things you can stick under regular dresses. If any female clergy out there have some tips on this issue, I’d gratefully receive them!

Finally, me in a dog-collar. [Or, as some wit on Twitter felt the need to point out, a ‘clerical collar’ if you’re being precise.] It’s not actually in a shirt as I wasn’t wearing one under the cassock. [For the record, there were clothes, just not anything into which a piece of white plastic could be inserted.]

Dog-collared Liz