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!]

Belated birthday brilliance

My 30th birthday has really been the birthday that keeps on giving. In the last couple of weeks I’ve acquired two birthday gifts that are quintessentially me – I have excellent friends.

The first of these was actually a bonus birthday/moving house gift from the lovely Annabelle. Ordered months ago, it had arrived late so she’d given me a lovely baking themed present instead. But the tardy present was (is) genius…

What are things I like? Well, jewellery would definitely be up there, especially earrings. What else am I passionate about? Punctuation. Can you combine the two? Why yes, it seems you can:

If you’d like your own punctuation, you can buy them from Nerd Goddess on Etsy.

Those, my friends, are mix and match punctuation earrings – semi-colon, question mark, speech mark, exclamation mark and…the all important apostrophe. Now whenever I have the urge to correct someone’s apostrophe usage, all I have to do is place my earring in the correct location. Marvellous.

The second gift arrived on Sunday, when my favourite Gloucestrians paid me a flying visit en route to helping their eldest move house. For weeks we’d been trying to fix up a meeting as they were very keen to give me my present, which intriguingly couldn’t be posted. When I was handed the parcel it was soon clear why – it was large and picture frame shaped, so presumably cumbersome and delicate. Unwrapping it, I discovered this:

In case you can’t read it, it says:

Lizzie likes… [Yes, they count as family, thus I’m “Lizzie”.]
Singing with the choir. [That’s a given.]
Yummy cupcakes. [Ditto.]
Chalet School books. [But of course.]
Travelling. [Hell yes.]
Flip Flops. [True, but now they kill my ankles.]
Church on Sunday. [And any other day.]
Glee. [Well duh!]
Paris in July. [Paris whenever really.]
The Greenwoods. [Like is an understatement.]
Ben Fogle. [Ahhhhh….]
Wishing she could still be a Brownie, even though she’s 30. [Running in-joke.]
How impressive! Turns out they’d only had to consult family on two items – favourite food and favourite celebrity crush. (My sister apparently suggested Colin Firth initially, which is odd as I don’t think I’ve ever professed an ardent liking of him – not that I’d say no, obviously. Ben Fogle is genius and true, the only alternative would’ve been Alan Rickman.) They really are the best gift givers on special birthdays – on my 21st I received a film poster style painting of my life (‘The girl from Tonga’…) – and they put a lot of thought and effort into it. Bless them.
So, once I finally get some special picture hooks later this week I’ll be able to adorn my new room with my new art. This and my specially commissioned Dave Walker cartoon will obviously have pride of place. 

Secret Santa Fail

Secret Santa – the scourge of the office Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge and actually, I rather enjoy the challenge of buying a random gift for a random colleague, but generally I don’t seem to come out of these things well. I’m passing no judgement on the present I received today, and this is not necessarily a view I share, but C rated it as the ‘lamest Secret Santa’. Cheers. Even the giving element wasn’t particularly thrilling for me, as the name I picked was the one colleague in my team that I’d never met and worked out of the building. The only respectable thing to do in such a situation is to buy nice chocolates, which is what I did.

Annoyingly, I missed a really good trick this year. My first pick out of the festive bucket was my own name, so I put it back and chose another. When I told C this, he pointed out that I’d have been much better off if I’d simply kept my own name and bought myself something I actually wanted. (Though trying to explain to the team how my Secret Santa had miraculously chosen the exact volume of Orwell essays I wanted might have been tricky…)

This is probably a little late for most people (someone I was chatting to this evening needed his gift by tomorrow, so was off to Lidl first thing to acquire it – I pity the person at an anonymous office in Oxford who receives that one), but here’s a few suggestions of gifts for a fiver:

Penguin Great Ideas series These are £4.99 each and consist of a whole range of classic and not so classic texts. I discovered them via Nose in a Book and her rave review of Orwell’s Books V Cigarettes – possibly the first time I’ve ever read a review and literally gone straight out (within the hour) and bought it. The latest series has another Orwell collection and I’m all about collecting Orwell at the moment.

Boots 3 for 2 gifts. There are tons of these – perfect for anyone – and the bonus is that you get a freebie. This year I’m particularly loving a mug covered in useful information (formulae, random facts etc), so you can learn while you sip.

Miniature toiletries. I’m a sucker for these – in fact, I have a whole drawer in my bathroom devoted to them, mostly items purloined from hotels. Personally, I like a stock of Sanctuary products that can be kept in my gym bag. Always nice to have pleasant smelling shower gel after a workout.

A nice, reusable shopping bag. Who doesn’t like to have multiple bags? Many of these are £5 or less. Current favourites include this red Foyles number – at £2.50 you could buy 2 – or one jute Foyles bag. Continuing the bookshop theme, Daunt’s bags are also highly attractive and useful (if you buy a super expensive book there, you get their smaller one free – fabulous).

Failing those ideas, chocolate will always work (unless you have my friend Jo, who’s allergic to cocoa – travesty), especially those Green & Blacks selection boxes. Oh, it’ll work unless the person you’re giving it to has been on a diet for 9 months and obviously lost a lot of weight – I wasn’t overly impressed last year to receive 2 bars of (quite nice) chocolate and a chocolate recipe calendar, given as I was deliberately avoiding the stuff! And scented candles – who doesn’t appreciate a good scented candle?

I do hope, if you work in an office environment and are not the sole employee of your organisation, that you get a wonderful Secret Santa gift this year. (If you do work on your own, why not just buy yourself a treat?) Next year, why not up the ante and make it really challenging? My favourite experience of the tradition was with a group of friends where we set the amount at £7.77 and insisted that the precise amount had to be spent. Quite, quite amusing.

Oh, and if you happen to get my name next year – follow the above instructions and you’ll do exceedingly well. Thank-you in advance.

For the love of lists

It’s December 1st and thus all conversations seem to turn to Christmas shopping…

My mother’s just spent a weekend with my sister, which included a day of shopping at the mecca that is the Street outlet (I’m hoping that a lot of shopping was done for my benefit) – but this meant that me and my Dad had to submit our lists last week. This evening I arrived home to a purple envelope containing my family Secret Santa allocation (it’s how we do our stockings – unless you’re under 8 and reading this, in which case Father Christmas does them). Christmas is unstoppably on its way!

As usual, the Christmas list highlight has (so far) come from Doris (previous year’s lists are here and here), who has asked for ‘heavy books’. On further enquiry, she doesn’t want to read them – just have them on her shelves looking impressive. Excellent stuff. I will now find pretty, heavy books suitable for a 7 year old’s boudoir. If I’m lucky, perhaps she’ll let me alphabetise them during the holidays.

On a related note, my sister shared with me today one idea she’d had for my present – because of my love of books. Apparently some company has come up with the bizarre idea of producing books in which the main character’s name can be changed to a name of your choosing. Mim found two possibilities – The Wizard of Oz (not really my kind of thing) and Pride and Prejudice. It’s not rocket science to realise that the latter would be a slightly pointless purchase, what with the main character being called Elizabeth an’ all!

My list wasn’t terribly amusing or interesting. The Mulberry handbag I’ve recently fallen in love with was excluded because I am a realist and know about budgets. Mostly, it consisted of requests for cosy PJs, slippers and a long list of books – I think I am officially a middle aged woman.

Customer Service

One thing that even the shortest period of working in retail gives you is a very high regard for customer service. Thanks to my days of toil in various bookshops I know what the rights of the consumer are; I have enough respect for cashiers to not talk on my mobile whilst paying for goods; I will stand my ground when returning faulty goods; and, most of all, I expect shop assistants in certain shops to know their onions…
Yesterday I had some time to kill in Birmingham, so I decided to tick a few things off my to-do list by heading over to the glorious (but architecturally controversial) Bullring for some retail therapy. Top of my list were some DVDs for my father’s imminent birthday, so I headed to HMV.
HMV is one of those ‘certain shops’ whose employees I believe should know their stuff – it’s the same case for bookstores and little specialist ones. Sometimes I like to give such assistants challenges, just for my amusement. Other times I just end up revealing what an utter idiot I am, unable to perform even the simplest shopping tasks.
I had chosen in advance two films that I’d seen in recent months which I knew my Dad would enjoy. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the exact title for either. I knew roughly what one was, but couldn’t find it. The other was French and I had no idea of either it’s French or English title.
There was no other option but to ask for help and the ensuing conversation went something like this:
ME: “Excuse me, I’m looking for a couple of DVDs but I can’t remember their titles – could you help me?”
ASSISTANT: [Gives me a withering look and sighs] “Yes, possibly, how much do you know about them?”
ME: “Erm, the first one is French. It’s got Kristen Scott-Thomas in it – but it’s not the one she got an Oscar nomination for last year. It’s a detective type film.”
ASSISTANT: “Right…I think I’ll just have to read out the list of films she’s been in. Will you recognise it if you hear it?”
ME: “Errr, possibly.” [Really not sure that I will.]
ASSISTANT reads out long list of films including ones that quite obviously are not French (like The Horse Whisperer) and eventually gets to Tell No One.
ME: “That’s the one! Great.”
ASSISTANT: [Stating the bleeding obvious] “It’ll be in our World Cinema section.”
ME: “Ok, one other film. I thought it was called ‘In the Wild’, but I couldn’t find it. It’s set in Alaska and there’s a campervan…”
ASSISTANT: [Cutting me off mid-sentence] “You mean Into the Wild. It’s under ‘I’ in the Feature Films section.”
ME: [Feeling rather sheepish] “Thank you so much, you’ve been very helpful.”
I returned 3 minutes later with both films, hoping to prove that I wasn’t such an idiot after all. I was somewhat relieved to be served by a different assistant.
The moral of this story is two-fold.
(i) Do your research before shopping.
(ii) Don’t treat shop assistants like idiots – they often know much more than they’re given credit for and will one day come to your rescue when you’re looking for ‘that book that was Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime three and a half weeks ago’. (Trust me, that was a genuine customer enquiry once upon a time!)
The Bullring’s Selfridges. Honestly, what’s there not to like?