Revisiting the past and anticipating the future

People often say that you can never go back to the things you’ve left behind. Usually they’re right. We can’t turn back time and dwelling on the past isn’t usually a helpful idea. But once in a blue moon you can and it’s every bit as good as the imprint on your memory. Last Saturday was one of those days…

Half a life time ago, as a nervous 16 year old, I joined an organisation I was in awe of – the MAYC Orchestra & Singers (O&S), a national youth choir and orchestra that was part of the Methodist Church. 16 years later, I can safely say that summoning up the courage to send in a tape to audition was one of the best decisions of my life. It brought me ten happy years of singing; improved my sight-reading exponentially; gave me solos in exotic locations like Blackpool’s Winter Gardens; and, most importantly, an amazing group of friends

LWE 1998Obligatory dodgy photo of me, and friends, in the RAH dressing rooms at London Weekend 1998. After some discussion, we’ve decided ‘moody’ was in… [Thanks so much Rachel for putting it on Facebook!]

‘MAYC’ was the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs and when I was an impressionable youngster, we lived across the road from its HQ in Muswell Hill – I longed for the day when I’d reach 13 and be allowed to go to its events! Its annual highlight was London Weekend, an event that saw thousands of young people flood London clad in green & yellow (don’t ask!) and filled the Royal Albert Hall twice over for a show. [If you want to get a better idea of this, there are two Songs of Praises now on YouTube, one from 1991 & one from the 50th anniversary in 1995.] The O&S was founded to provide the backing music to this event, first with an orchestra in 1974 and later a choir too. This year marks its 40th anniversary and fortunately for us, the trustees of what has now become OneSound, realised the significance of the date in time to plan a reunion.

It’s really difficult to explain what O&S means to people who haven’t been part of it. On the surface, it sounds like a noble activity – a church based musical activity for youngsters. A group that meets together two or three times a year for three days at a time, drawing people together from all over the country. How could it possibly have that much of an impact upon its members’ lives?

Yes, I performed in some of the best venues in the UK – including the Royal Albert Hall, the NEC & NIA and several cathedrals. We recorded three albums and taped two Songs of Praises. But I took it for granted in that blasé way teenagers have. But I also found a place where I could explore and be sustained in my faith. A place that was a constant in the midst of A-levels, university, first jobs, unemployment and parents leaving the country. A group that provided some of the best friends a girl could have – which in no small way has probably made my sister and I closer together than we might have been. Countless people have met their spouses through it, including six friends of mine (and another couple currently dating).

O&S at an O&S weddingFormer O&S/OneSound members at a wedding that wouldn’t have happened without the O&S.

This past weekend, over 150 of us across its 40 year history joined together to revisit old friends and music. In all honesty, I was a little apprehensive. Would it be as good as I remembered? Would people really get into the spirit of things? Would I know many people outside the group of friends I see regularly? Would it be worth losing a weekend that could be spent on the final essay & presentation of my ordination training??

I needn’t have worried. At 8.30 on Saturday morning we launched straight into a run-through of an iconic O&S piece (an unlikely bringing together of Amy Grant’s That’s What Love is For and MC Hammer’s Do Not Pass Me By) and the moment the the first chords were played, the hairs stood up on my neck. The orchestra sounded amazing. The soloist sounded just the same as she had done 17 years ago. We were singing notes most of us never thought we’d get to sing again. I think there were probably tears… In that moment, I think we all knew the event was going to be a success. In fact, it wouldn’t have mattered if no one had come to the concert that Saturday night because we just wanted to play and sing. (Well, and chat. There wasn’t enough time for chatting!)

Children's choirThe Children’s Choir in action. (I’m the proud Godmother of the boy on the far right in the purple t-shirt. His brother is making a face next to the girl in the pink & blue frock.) [Credit: Matthew Tipple]

Time has moved on and nowhere was that more evident than in the presence of second generation O&S’ers – the children of ex members. Someone had the idea of forming them into a children’s choir and, although I know it was stressful at times [brilliant work Gill, Catherine, Joe, Jenna et al!], their participation made the event. My godson and his brother had a whale of a time, the younger of the two discovered what microphones do and made sure he was right in front of one at all times, singing loudly! In the first half of the evening’s concert, they performed admirably, with a particularly enthusiastic version of Let it Go. But it was the finale of Sing (the Gary Barlow Commonwealth anthem for the jubilee) that broke me, and most of the other adults. The children topped and tailed it and it was flipping awesome!

My friend’s Mum filmed this – she was impressed she worked out how to do video, so we’ll let her off the portrait-ness of it. The sound quality’s pretty good though. [Parents, this is posted more for your benefit than anyone else’s! You ought to be able to spot me…]

Life in O&S wasn’t always easy and I think I was worried that this weekend would bring up memories that weren’t quite so great. The time I spent as a member covered a period of massive change in Methodism and included the transitioning of O&S out of the national structure, losing all its funding. In 2005 I had a temporary job at the Methodist Church [the first of 3!], working in the same open-plan office of the then MD when news broke that it was to be cut and her post made redundant. At the time, I was also secretary of the support group – a band of volunteers from the O&S who had various, not hugely important responsibilities (mine seemed to largely revolve around our music library) – who, all of a sudden, were plunged into making plans for the future.

Over the months and years that followed I gave hours and days of my life to ensuring this organisation survived. We had long meetings that inevitably resulted in me catching the very last train home from Watford. We gathered volunteers; came up with structures and grant applications; we filed for company and charitable status; and we oversaw a transition from the now meaningless ‘MAYC Orchestra & Singers’ to ‘OneSound’. Sometimes there were days when it didn’t seem worth it – like when letters of complaint arrived or when members couldn’t understand why things weren’t how they were before. But then an event would come around and every late night, every meeting minuted, and form filled in was more than worth it.

When I began Vicar School three years ago, I made the decision that I could no longer spare the time for board meetings, emails and events, so after five years of being a trustee (ending up with a year as acting chair), I stood down. Until this weekend, I’d had next to nothing to do with OneSound except for chats with friends who are still involved and the odd favour. I’d forgotten what had made all that work worthwhile.

PerformingThe reunion ensemble. (I’m apparently deep in thought…) [Credit: Sarah Winser]

This weekend, I remembered why it was so important that we kept O&S going in 2005. That it matters that other young people have the chance to be part of something that can change their lives. Yes, it’s exceptionally cheesy, but I – and several hundred other people – know that it’s completely true. I’m phenomenally pleased that lots of ex-members have recognised it too. Hopefully lots of them will support what O&S has become in future years, so that when the 5oth anniversary comes around, we can do it all over again!

The past was Orchestra & Singers, but the future is OneSound.

 

OneSound logo

"Keep wearing purple, it suits you…"

Yesterday morning, I got up eagerly (always bit of a novelty), excited at what the day would hold. As much of the day’s work as possible was undertaken at home so that I could listen to General Synod’s livestream in the comfort of my living room. Once at the office, Twitter kept me informed. By evening, as the women bishops debate was drawing to a close, my headphones went in, and I listened to the debate while moving chairs. (I was the epitome of this Dave Walker cartoon, sans cassock.) The vote took place as I was briefing a home group in how they would be helping with Student Alpha that night. Everyone paused as the numbers were read out. When it got to the House of Laity, the home group leader looked at me – I hadn’t done the maths, but he had and his face told me it had been lost.

Episcopal ManicureChurch politics via nail art.

The aftermath of Synod’s vote was wide-reaching. I can only really speak for myself, but the news was far more upsetting than I thought it would be. I understand the legislation and the fact that, in principle, having women bishops has been agreed – the vote yesterday was actually to do with the provision that should be made for those that do not feel able to serve under one. I know that it’s simply a matter of time. I know that this decision should not affect my calling to ministry in the Church of England.

But, I was hurt. Very hurt.

This morning, several hundred tweets later and having made a promise to my mother that I would not blog on this subject until I’d slept on it, I’m trying to reflect on how today works after yesterday’s excitement and disappointment. So here are some thoughts…

  • This will happen. Potentially (having just listened to ++Rowan’s speech to synod) earlier than we thought it might last night. When it does, the compromise that several of the laity will have voted against may no longer be there and women will be in a better position overall.
  • That it will happen one day is little solace for the women who are ready to be bishops now, but may well be unable to take up that position in several years time. Several people told me yesterday that it would be ok, that I would see this change in my life time, that I could still be a bishop – but what about those for whom it was the last chance?
  • The Church of England needs to look carefully at its governance structures and encourage those who might not otherwise consider it, to get involved. Yes, church politics can be terrifically dull, but I’d gladly sit through endless meetings about chairs if it meant I got to vote on bishops. I spotted an interesting Facebook thread last night between some students I know, all wondering what it would take to get on Synod – that needs to be encouraged!
  • On the same note, the church needs to get to grips with youth participation. I was stunned, towards the end of yesterday’s debate, to hear an eloquent 22 year old female ordinand – who was attending synod as a result of her membership of the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) – mention that she didn’t actually get to vote. This person could contribute to debate, yet not vote?! That is not participation, that’s tokenism and the CofE should be ashamed of themselves. Having heard year after year of excellent contributions from Methodist Youth Reps at Conference, all of whom had full voting rights, it seems ridiculous that the CofE hasn’t caught up.
  • Twitter is a beautiful place. When I was grieving, yet having to put on a competent, happy front at work, people across the world comforted me. Actually, not just Twitter, Facebook too. But it was on Twitter that I saw again and again just how outraged people were by the decision; who affirmed women’s place in the church; who felt how I felt; who were able to crack jokes about it when my sense of humour deserted me… This tweet summed up how I felt:

  • When the decision first came through, I had a moment of wondering whether I’d made an horrific mistake in leaving the Methodists for the Anglicans – after all, I could hold whatever position I wanted to in Methodism (well, providing I was qualified for it, my gender wouldn’t be an issue). Almost immediately, a tweet from one of my closest college friends appeared, saying: “Unbelievable. Think I’ll become a Methodist.” which didn’t massively help me. I knew I’d been called to the CofE, I knew I was willing to fight, but it felt very hard at that moment and almost as though every Methodist I knew was smugly thinking “thank goodness we’re out of that!”. They weren’t, I was being illogical, and much of the support I received last night was from Methodist friends (and my own Methodist parents). But, the Methodists still have work to do and I think last night this became more apparent. Yes, women can hold high office, but do they? Not as much as they ought to. Current number of women in senior management within the Connexional Team? Zero. If this furore about women in the CofE helps women in Methodism get further, then that’s a good thing.

So this morning, we get up and we get on with life. The world outside the church understands even less of what’s gone on than those inside do, so we need to be gracious and caring and not contribute to a belief that this is the death of the church. It is not. We need to show women – particularly young women – that there is still a place for them within the church, and we need to affirm the women that are already serving within it.

We also need to remember that life goes on despite all of this, and that life can be hard and painful. Why mourn women bishops when people are being killed in Gaza? My personal wallowing in self-pity was brought to an abrupt halt late last night as I heard that a friend had been rushed into hospital with acute myeloid leukaemia – probably as a result of radiography having been diagnosed with lymphoma a few years ago, an illness her husband was then diagnosed with earlier this year. The news put life dramatically into perspective.

Ultimately, I will continue what I’m doing – training for ordination, helping to lead a church – and will take the advice of a reassuring friend in a chat last night: “keep wearing purple; it suits you.” 

Friday Fun with Jesus, dinosaurs and Methodists

Originally, I had an eclectic mix for today’s fun – until a dinner party on Wednesday descended into a feast of Biblically themed internet gem sharing. So I sat, chuckled, took notes and present you with the following…

Firstly, ever wondered if Jesus rode a dinosaur? Here’s what it probably would have looked like:

Under this image on Flickr is the following genius conversation:

Dad, did dinosaurs really exist?

Sure they did, son. The Bible says so. They didn’t call them “dinosaurs” back then, but instead they were known as “leviathans” or “behemoths”.

But, my science teacher says dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. Is that true?

Of course not, son.

Then how old are they?

Well, let’s see. The Bible tells us [from Adam and Eve’s family tree] that the Universe is only a few thousand years old. So dinosaurs had to have lived within the past few thousand years. That’s simple logic, son.

Oh. So that means they were on Noah’s Ark?

Absolutely! The Bible says two of every animal were brought [by God] to the ark. Dinosaurs were animals. So, using your logic again son, dinosaurs had to be on the ark.

Huh. So how come scientists say they’re older than that? and died way before Jesus?

Well, son, they just make that up. Dinosaur bones don’t have labels on them to tell how old they are. In fact, there is no proof whatsoever that the world and its fossil layers are millions of years old. No scientist saw dinosaurs die-

Dad!

No I’m serious. Scientists only find the bones in the here and now, and because many of them are evolutionists, they try to fit the story of the dinosaurs into their view.

That’s sad. But I thought scientists were smart?

Sure, but they don’t know everything. So they have to make stuff up to fit their beliefs. While you and I, we have the facts, straight from the Bible.

I don’t want to be a scientist!

Ha! That’s ok, son. It’s better to be right, than smart. C’mon, wanna learn how to flip burgers like your Dad?

Yeah!

Love it. Personally, my own epiphany regarding creationism came when Phoebe refused to believe Ross’ explanation for fossils (i.e. evolution) in an episode of Friends. My father had to point out that many Christians shared Phoebe’s views and I probably shouldn’t refer to them as idiots quite so readily…
Secondly, something else a tad blasphemous – a brilliant depiction of Jesus telling his disciples what they did wrong. Yes, Jesus’ voice is a little bit creepy, but some of the lines are classic. Listen out for:
“There’s no use trying to hide. I am Jesus and I will find you.”
“As for you Frank, you know what you did, but I’m Jesus and I just can’t repeat it.”
“I forgot your name so you’re off the hook.”

Thirdly, my own contribution to the discussion, which sadly we couldn’t bring up on our phones at that precise moment, but I did have a fun half-hour re-exploring it for the first time in years last night. I mentioned it here about 4 years ago but I think that’s long enough for a repeat plug. The Brick Testament is a pictorial representation of the Bible using Lego characters to quite impressive effect. It’s worth noting from the start that were it not for the creation of Harry Potter and Star Wars Lego sets, this project would have been much harder… Warning: some of it is NSFW, but then so are certain parts of the Bible.

Finally, something a little bit more niche – a rather delightful YouTube video from Garrison Keillor. If you’ve not come across him before, you’ve missed out! Author of the Lake Woebegone books and radio personality, he’s utterly delightful and hilarious. A Methodist friend tweeted a link to this video earlier in the week and I resisted the urge to retweet it so I could share it here first. Methodist friends (and my Dad especially) will love this, even though it’s more about the American church than the British one. [The United Methodist Church in the states is a diverse being – its members include both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.]

If you didn’t manage to catch the lyrics fear not – they’re available here. But these were a few of my favourites:

Everyone’s afraid of change. 
Don’t like anything new or strange.
Or we get our underwear in a twist
That’s how it is with a Methodist

We were founded by John Wesley,
Not Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley,
We’re not so hip but we persist
We go on being Methodist

Perhaps the UMC has more in common with the British church than I initially realised? 

The meaning of Christmas (decorations)

It’s becoming something of a annual blogging tradition to chronicle additions to my (rather extensive) collection of Christmas tree decorations. It could be tedious, but it’s more for my benefit, so I can remember where they came from when I am old and senile.

To explain the premise:
My family (well, my mother began it…) has a delightful tradition of collecting Christmas tree decorations that mean something (this was a family tradition before the Nativity set obsession began). They could be meaningful because of who they were made by, where they were from, or what they symbolise. It’s my favourite thing about the Clutterbuck Christmas and I can be a total bore at parties when my Christmas tree is complimented. Ask one question and you get a very long soliloquy in return…

That’s this year’s tree – the fake monstrosity of past years didn’t make the move to KX, so I did some foraging again and recreated last year’s Christmas Twigs

This year, there are three additions to the collection and when I looked at them, I realised that they symbolised three big features of this year – gosh, how I love a good bit of symbolism! 
Firstly, some rather lovely wooden hearts bought in Harpenden:
I can’t remember the name of the shop (Jenni, you may need to help me out here) but it’s on the High Street, just a few doors away from the Methodist Church. I bought these in the January sales (Christmas decorations top tip: buy them reduced after Christmas) when I had some time to kill before a meeting at the church. 
The church was one of my case studies in the Missing Generation research project I was consumed with in my old job. For nearly three years it was the main focus of my professional life, until the summer when I got to present it to Methodist Conference – where, thankfully, people seemed to get rather excited about it. In fact, if the absence of people aged 25-40 is an issue you’re interested in (especially if you’re Methodist), why don’t you ring up the good people at Methodist Church House and ask what’s happening with the implementation of the report’s recommendations…
There’s nothing I like better than handmade decorations, so I was really pleased to discover that the women at the Marylebone Project had made some with Sweet Notions. I bought a few (as did lots of other people, meaning that they pretty much sold out) and spent a afternoon last week making my own versions for Christmas gifts. 

This time last year I was aware of Sweet Notions and their work, but hadn’t quite been sucked into its world until the middle of this year. You know you’re properly involved in a project when you find yourself baking cakes at 11pm (and having cake failure tantrums) and can be found loading transit vans outside swanky hotels late at night. 
Sweet Notions works with the women of the Marylebone Project, teaching them how to make jewellery (and assorted other things – recently I witnessed a great bath bomb/bath scrub workshop), and this jewellery then gets sold at boutique events that occur sporadically. I discovered the project through quite a random coincidence – one could say that God really wanted me to know about it, ensuring that two people I already involved told me about it separately. I don’t often get to spend time with the women, thanks to work, but I love it when I do. What I especially love about these decorations is that I know who made them – the blue ones above were made by Adele, who only makes blue jewellery. We had a great chat about the decorations before I bought them and she taught me how to make my own. The other two in my collection were made by Cathers, who I can credit with getting me properly involved in Sweet Notions in the first place. 
It was quite a while before I fully realised that Sweet Notions is just one part of the larger Matryoshka Haus, which the fabulous Shannon Hopkins heads up. Getting to know Shannon has definitely been one of the year’s highlights – little did I know that one invitation to Thai food would result in a trip to France to build a house; my social life hub moving to the East End; a host of new and interesting friends; and involvement in an incredibly exciting missional project. In October, I found myself in Chichester with other members of the community, where I bought this beauty in a little art shop:

It seemed appropriate to mark the importance of the Matryoshka Haus community with the ultimate accolade – a place on my Christmas tree. Thus, in years to come when my grandchildren ask for the story behind the heart shaped glass bauble, I’ll be able to tell them about the strange collection of great people I lived life with in my early thirties. [God help me, that’s the first time I’ve ever referred to my ‘early thirties’. Terrifying.]

Things I learned at Greenbelt

I am being very tardy in my posting – apologies – but I did promise a follow up Greenbelt post, and this is it.

There is little erudite wisdom from the speakers I heard, because I only went to one talk. There is no theological reflection on the corporate act of worship, because I didn’t go to Sunday morning communion. There are no detailed reviews of the bands I heard because, well, I’m not that kind of person and I spent much of my time at mainstage dancing like a woman possessed in an attempt to keep my feet warm. But I did learn a few things…

1. A wise gem from Rob Bell: “You need to learn to laugh at yourself.” 
I missed much of his talk, partly because I got distracted by former Methodist colleagues and partly because I had a date with the social media surgery [of which more anon], which was sad as it was at mainstage and required no queueing. However, I did reach the spot of grass where my friends were gathered just as these words were spoken and I was greeted by a friend commenting “Liz is already really good at this because we’ve been laughing at her for so long”. Sounds harsh, but it’s true.

Days later Rob Bell was quoted back at me when I was told that my Glee T-shirt ought to read ‘Boring’. I wasn’t allowed to be offended, I was simply supposed to laugh it off and accept that I shouldn’t tell really boring anecdotes… [In fairness, I am very good at laughing at myself, I just often pursue the route of using my ‘mock offended face’ (as one friend’s dubbed it) in an attempt to make the other person feel bad.]

2. Nothing at Greenbelt really requires punctuality. You will always bump into people you know on your way somewhere and, quite frankly, it’s more important to talk to them. (Although, if they’re someone you don’t like, talks are a great excuse to leave – just make sure it’s not something they’d want to go to.) For me, Greenbelt is far more about the people who are there who I don’t usually see anywhere else. Plus, there’s a high chance that a reply to the innocent question “so, what are you up to?” may well be “oh, I’m off to Somalia for two years at the end of next month” – in which case they’re really someone you need a good chat with, rather than dashing off to a seminar.

Admittedly, there are exceptions. I missed every single one of the fabulous Wesley Flash Mobs [turn up in a specified location at a specified time to sing a specified Wesley hymn – genius] because I was either in a rehearsal or bumped into someone on my way to the flashing. Such a shame.

3. Salsa’s much harder than it looks and you get very hot if you do it wearing PJs – as demonstrated by these teenagers that utterly mystified my partner and I:

I’m of the opinion that once you’ve started school you no longer require all-in-one PJs with feet. Agreed? 

4. Sometimes, you’ll do something you really didn’t intend to do purely on the basis of a mysterious text message. This was how I ended up at the Methodist Mingle…

Honestly, it wasn’t high on my list of programme [which I didn’t buy] highlights, but on my way back from the aforementioned salsa class I received a text from someone whose number wasn’t stored in my phone informing me that they were at the mingle and would like to see me. Aware that there were a few other people I wanted to catch who were also likely to be mingling, I decided I’d head in its direction. I didn’t find the person I suspected it was [having checked an email I confirmed it was my #1 suspect] but did greet a few old friends and, learnt something else:
5. Sometimes, there are Methodist events at which alcohol is served. They’re rare, so one ought to make the most of them. 
6. It’s fun recognising people from Twitter. It’s not so fun when you meet people who say “oh! You don’t look like your Twitter photo!”. Well no, not at Greenbelt I don’t. It would need me to perpetually pull this face and have a ‘going out dancing’ hairstyle (and exist in sepia tones, as opposed to full colour).
I particularly enjoyed meeting a Twitter friend within minutes of arriving on site and getting to chat to several others in the context of being a Social Media Surgeon. [Though my epic busy-ness of the last few weeks meant that I totally forgot to do the Doodle & ended up not being needed. But I did end up helping people outside the surgery.] “Social Media Surgeon?” I hear you cry? Basically, it was a group of social media savvy people who offered their time to pass wisdom and idea onto others who wanted to make more use of Twitter, blogs, Facebook et al. No idea why they thought I’d fancy it, none at all…
7. Bin liners can provide hours of amusement. 

What can I say, other than that someone was inspired by the fact that Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly were about to perform. We got a cape, wore it and flew. Enough said.

8. Church House Bookshop may need to work on their book classification a little harder:

It’s a Christian bookshop at a Christian festival – surely most of their stock would fit within a ‘God Stuff’ category? 

9. One day, when you least expect it, you will utter the words “Noah! stop eating the gazebo!” and you will realise just what a yummy mummy you have the potential to become. 
No, I have no idea why he chose to gnaw upon the guy ropes. 
Suffice to say that 8 adults were in loco parentis at this moment while his mother was at a workshop and none of us were great at preventing it from happening. 
10. Cake is always good – no matter what time of day it is.