The lady cement mixer

“And amongst their number is a lady cement mixer…”

The Bishop of London’s deep tones rang out across the congregation gathered for ordinations at St Paul’s Cathedral, and as he did so, people sitting near me conferred quietly. “Who *is* this lady cement mixer??” they murmured – for, amongst those being ordained, this was the second reference to this mysterious woman in just two days. From the seat behind, my sister giggled, she had guessed the answer. My mother apparently hadn’t, for several hours later,  she asked me who it was – to which the response came from more than one person gathered there: “It’s Liz of course!!”

In my defence, I had been asked to complete a form that shared some information about myself with the Bishop. What did I enjoy doing in my spare time? What hobbies did I have? There was even an instruction to be a little bit different. So I shared my hobby of house renovation in France, complete with the acquisition of the skill of cement mixing. And thus, I became “the lady cement mixer”.

IMG_7282Lady cement mixer at work. The stuff gets EVERYWHERE.

It’s embarrassing. Not because I am in any ashamed of my Chateau Duffy skills, but because there are probably people who heard the Bishop’s words and thought to themselves: “How wonderful!! Not only was a woman working on a building site, but she then felt a call from God and is now ordained! Fantastic. London is such a diverse church!!” When in fact the truth is that a terribly middle class woman has some slightly odd hobbies – hobbies that actually, she shouldn’t tell churches too much about, because otherwise they’ll want her to start fixing things!

The Bishop’s words were uttered a year ago last week. [Confession: this post was sitting in drafts for ages! My ordination birthday is July 4th…] I’m officially a Reverend of one year’s standing! But they came back to me last month, as I not only mixed more cement (as apparently it’s believed I’m the only person who knows how to do – I am not!), but also learnt about plastering and how to tile a bathroom. Pretty soon I could start my own business…

Perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so embarrassed by the Bishop’s fascination with the female ordinand who can mix cement. After all, how many people do you know who can mix cement? How many of them are women?? Do any of them do it for fun?

Liz the vicarThe lady cement mixer in her natural habitat…

One of the many things that Chateau Duffy has taught [and it’s categorically taught me A LOT], is that I love breaking gender stereotypes. I knew this already (hello lady vicar), but the world of building sites is so dominated by one gender that it feels more noticeable there. Am I as strong as other people? Not necessarily. Am I happy to scamper across the roof or to balance precariously upon things? Nope. But do either of these things have much to do with my gender? Not really. [I concede that the men are generally stronger, but that doesn’t have to be a gender thing. I am very anti the cries of “Can we have some men to help with…” that go up at events when some marginally heavy lifting needs to be done.]

On our most recent trip, there was a day on site when I was the only woman present. I actually didn’t realise this initially – I was ankle deep in mud, standing in a 1 metre deep trench and it was difficult to see anything that was going on that wasn’t to do with the removal of mud and rocks. I was proudly putting to use my brand new steel toe capped wellies [an emergency purchase the day before after an old Primark pair split – they were a massive bargain courtesy of my favourite ex-pat], while desperately trying to clear the last few inches of the trench. But when another woman popped by and pointed out my unique status

Trench WelliesCaught between a rock and a hard place. (Standing in 1st position – because of lack of space) 

My job wasn’t super hard. I was following behind a friend using a pick axe (and later a jack hammer) – they broke up the rock and I removed it. It was tedious and tricky. The trench was too narrow for feet to stand side by side, so there was some physical dexterity required, plus a little ingenuity when the spade became too wide for the trench. And thus I found myself putting skills acquired during pilates to excellent use: standing on one leg, the other hooked up on the ground above the trench; and one arm stretched out over the ground while the other clutched a trowel – in this position I was able to do an elegant and safe bend down to the bottom of the trench. (And looked ridiculous, but no matter, it worked.)

Trophy gloryMy efforts in the trench even earned me a trophy!  

The thing with Chateau Duffy is that it’s completely dependent upon team-work, and the willingness of individuals to pitch in at whatever level they’re capable of. Some people turn up who are trained architects, builders, plumbers or general DIY-y type people. Other people come with other important gifts – like cooking amazing meals for large groups of people. And yet others – myself included – turn up to learn new skills, pitch in wherever’s needed, and generally do their bit for the greater good of seeing the building finished. One day. One day…

I work hard because it’s fun. I love a challenge. I want a place to go on holiday to in the future. And, because I really like the novelty of being a female vicar who knows her way around a building site. It’s not so much “This girl can” as “this lady vicar can”. Can, does, will and LOVES it.

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!]

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?

All I did was send in an email…

At some point over a year ago, I had an idea of something I would do to commemorate my final day at theological college. Then it turned out that I was going to have a year longer at St Mellitus than I’d anticipated, so I filed the idea away. Miraculously, exactly a week before I had my actual final day, I remembered this idea and put it into action. Little did I know what the ramifications of this simple idea would be…

Long term readers and Twitter followers may be aware that I consider myself a Wittertainee – aka a dedicated listener to the Wittertainment podcast featuring Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. A fan from my very first podcast (in which Kermode renamed Eat, Pray Love: “Eat, Pray, Love, Vomit”), just months later I found myself reviewing a film live on BBC Radio in their Christmas special. Thanks to them, I also spent a few minutes in the same room as Robert Redford back in 2012.

The beauty of Wittertainment isn’t so much the films, but the chemistry between Mayo, Kermode and their listeners. Each podcast features a sizeable quantity of ‘parish notices’, with emails from listeners featuring highly. Rarely are these missives much to do with film – more often, they’re to do with what listeners have been up to while listening (running marathons; treating Ebola; working on the Hadron Collider; up mountains; in submarines; and, most recently, having surgery performed upon them) or how the show has healed them miraculously, or caused them to suffer a WRI (Wittertainment Related Injury). There is a plethora of in-jokes, by which any discerning Wittertainee can easily be identified. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that it regularly features communications from assorted church leaders, who gather together in ‘clergy corner’.

It was this last point, combined with the fact that Wittertainment has been the audio accompaniment to my weekly walk home from college for four years, that resulted in my idea. I’d email in, in order to mark the occasion of my final Monday afternoon walk home from St Mellitus:

Wittertainment Email

To be honest, I wasn’t sure it stood much chance of being read out. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been, had the events of that Friday not resulted in the show going off air and being podcast only. My friend Phil (a member of Clergy Corner thanks to an email a couple of years previously) alerted me to its broadcast – and then followed this up with a couple of tweets that suggested that a little more had happened than just a simple read-out.

A Wittertainment realisation

Despite being determined to hold off on listening until my Monday afternoon, I was greatly intrigued and even more so when I searched Twitter and discovered that the week’s hashtag rhymed with my name – the hitherto meaningless “Hucklebuck”. So, 1am saw me fast-forwarding through the podcast to the relevant bits. [20mins in and around 5mins from the end, to be precise.]

Oh. My. Goodness. All I’d wanted was a bit of a shout out and instead, as Hoylus observed, it was ‘like a Clutterbuck special.’ And the Hucklebuck? Turns out it’s a very catchy 80’s tune that has a dance routine to it. Over the top of the song, Kermode & Mayo talked about me in my vestments dancing at the cathedral, singing “Do the Clutterbuck” over the original lyrics. Wow.

The next morning there were tweets from total strangers, and a Facebook post from a dear Wittertainment ally:

Stop what you're doing...Posting a link in the podcast resulted in requests for a Hucklebuck flash mob at the cathedral, and a fabulous Twitter exchange:

It was a surreal few days. At college, on my final day, a MA classmate greeted me with “I hear you’re famous now!” – as someone at his church had asked if he knew me (recognising the ‘radical’ vicar school in question). That afternoon, an emotional end to my last day of classes was eased with the podcast. By the time my email was read out at 20mins in, I’d already forgotten that it was coming and stopped in my tracks when my usual routine suddenly featured my name! A few extra people followed me on Twitter. A singer I’ve had a little bit of a crush on for a while, tweeted me in congratulations. (Cue much giggling.) Friends who were hitherto unaware of the Church of Wittertainment listened in and liked what they heard. Oh, and it turns out St Paul’s Cathedral is a Wittertainee…

St Paul's Tweet

St Paul's Tweet responses

And on the day itself? Well, despite being a fan of the show, The Hucklebuck wasn’t played at the cathedral. But it was played at the post-service party, and I did dance, while robed. Plus, a number of cards arrived bearing a certain hashtag.

Hucklebuck Cards

Today, two weeks on from the show airing, I sent in another email. Just an update, saying (more succinctly) what’s been said in this post. It made it into the pre-show podcast extras – complete with a chastisement from Dr Kermode for looking at Twitter during my silent retreat. I think it’s going to be a while before I email in again.

As I wrote in this week’s email:

“All I’d wanted was a distraction on an emotional walk home. I did NOT expect to acquire my own theme song, and a peculiar level of (as someone tweeted me) ‘Wittertainment fame’… Ordination was always going to be dead amaze & totes emosh, but thank you for adding a level of utter hilarity to it too!” 

As for the events of July 4th – that’s a whole other post that’s yet to be written.

Young vicars??

“Do you ever feel as though doctors and police officers are getting younger all the time? Well, soon, your local vicar could be a young person too, thanks to a new Church of England initiative…” 

So began most of the 9 interviews I gave to local BBC radio stations yesterday morning. The first time I heard it, I had to restrain a giggle. Seriously? Were young vicars something to be feared? Were they seen to be a new thing? Where did BBC listeners think all the Bishops who’d been ordained in their 20’s some 30 years ago had been for the first part of their ministry?

Last week, the media team at Church House Westminster sent out a press release about a new internship programme for those aged 18-30 who are thinking about whether God is calling them into ministry. The BBC got interested in this – particular the ‘young’ element of it (and the fact that it was ‘unpaid’). They thought it would be a good idea to speak to someone training for ordination who had explored their calling while in their 20’s. This is where I fitted in – despite being the grand old age of 32, I was in my 20’s while I went through the selection process – and thus I found myself in a tiny studio at 6.30am on a Sunday morning, waiting to speak to 9 different radio presenters across the country.

It was fascinating. There really does seem to be a public perception that youth is a barrier to being an effective church leader. How can you be a vicar without plenty of life experience? Well, quite frankly, no two people of the same age have had the same amount of life experience. It’s much more important that those contemplating ordination are seen to have a level of maturity that enables them to understand where their life experience is lacking; seek opportunities to widen their experience; and to empathise with those they meet facing situations that they have no experience of. As a caveat though, that maturity is essential. If a 21 year old doesn’t seem to have it, they need to!

They wanted to know how congregations reacted to the sight of me, a ‘young’ person, at the front of the church leading a service or preaching a sermon. No one’s ever made a negative comment about my age, or suggested that I can’t possibly teach them anything in my sermon because they are 40 years older than me. Yes, my current church has a lot of young people in it, but it has plenty of older members too and I know they would say something if they felt there was an issue! In fact, the best thing about being young and being actively involved in services is that it inspires other people my age and younger to go and do likewise. To ask me about my own journey to ordination and seek advice about their own vocations. I did some calculations and realised that at my church, only three of our regular preachers are over the age of 40 (we have a group of around 11 or 12 that preach).

Are there even enough of this age group in the church to choose new vicars from? Despite what a former Archbishop said recently, yes!! [This is when my Missing Generation research becomes useful again.] Admittedly, the vast majority of 20s & 30s worship in the capital, but across the country, there are a lot of young people worshipping in Anglican churches and possibly contemplating ministry. Just last June, 80 young women exploring their call gathered in London for a vocations day – there is plenty of hope!

Young women gather at St Jude'sYoung women at St Jude’s in June, all exploring ordination.

Ultimately, having spent some time talking to those involved in the creation of the internship scheme and reading about it, I think it’s a good idea. Many people who feel called into ministry don’t have an opportunity to test it out in a really practical way. Yes, some will work as lay people for churches, but few churches can afford to have such employees. Some might have grown up in clergy families and have a very good idea about the practicalities of life as a vicar. (That was my own experience.) Perhaps they will have the chance to preach the occasional sermon, but will they have time alongside a full-time job?

So the scheme enables people who want to, to take a year out from secular employment and spend a year engaged in practical ministry. They don’t receive a salary, but they are provided with accommodation, food, travel and a small allowance. Plus, they receive some theological education and mentoring, ensuring that their personal development is monitored and that they have people with whom to discuss their vocational thoughts. Currently, the scheme (officially known as the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme – CEMES)  is being piloted in four dioceses, with another 14 looking to take it up next year.

For the next week, if you’re so inclined, you can listen to me being questioned by a few of the BBC’s finest Sunday morning radio presenters. I’ve not provided links to all nine (partly because it would be tedious and repetitive; partly because some were very short), but it’ll give you a flavour…

BBC Cambridgeshire (2hrs 10mins) – I liked Cambridgeshire!

BBC Wiltshire (2hrs 54mins) – Wiltshire was also lovely. They also interviewed someone local after me, which thankfully backed up what I’d talked about & even mentioned pioneering things.

BBC Lancashire (2hrs 47mins) The toughest interview of the lot!

BBC Newcastle (1hr 40mins) – Where they seemed to think I was actually on the scheme, which was awkward – as was being disconnected right at the start of the interview! I was also asked if I was a good singer (!) and in typical British fashion, stumbled over my response in fear of sounding big-headed if I simply answered ‘yes’!

BBC Sussex & Surrey (2hrs 16mins) – where they surprised me an in-studio priest who disagreed the scheme. How nice of them!