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A Question of Blessing

It’s been a while since I mentioned the quilts of hope project, it had to be put on a back burner while I finished my degree. But it was something that I was so passionate about I knew I’d return to it at some point.

Well, for those who are new to the blog and those who’ve forgotten what the quilts were about, here is a recap…

The quilts of hope project combined two thoughts; What happens when people craft together and How does a fabric become a spiritual object.

Although the idea of making a quilt with messages on was one I thought of in my first year at university it wasn’t until the end of my second year that I got to sit down with a group of students and hand sew a quilt.

What I found fascinating wasn’t the skill needed, in fact the quilting process is a very simple in and out stitch that is quick and easy to learn. It was the community that I found interesting.

Folk who knit in groups might know what I’m on about when I talk about the comradery of crafting together. I used to go to a knitting group where was sat in a group knitting our own projects, but the conversation was what brought us together. I think those fellow knitters knew more about me than my GP did!

There’s been a long tradition of community crafting, from waulking cloth and singing songs in time with the process to the modern day yarn bombing. There’s some connection to sitting around and working together and chatting together that is perhaps as therapeutic as a psychotherapy session.

As I worked with the students, all at least a decade younger than I, sitting around a quilt and sewing the very simple stitch we began to chat together, then sing from the radio (ABBA songs seem to be good for all generations) then our conversation turned into this magical therapeutic atmosphere where no subject was off guard and we moved away from sharing niceties to discussing the truth of our lives. Depression, eating disorders, suicide, stress… subjects that perhaps would only be shared after a long period of friendship were suddenly being discussed openly, with no worry or fear.

There was no feeling of being embarrassed or as though you were sharing something that would trigger some uncontrollable emotional situation, in a sense our conversation, though quite deep, had an air of lightness and refreshment.

I’ve experienced counselling and quite often, when a heavy subject has been discussed, it can leave a sense of dread for quite a while after. Here though there was none of the heavy after-thoughts of sharing.

Perhaps it was simply that we had something else to do.

Maybe, that barrier that stops us from being open, or the inner voice that tells us we’ll be misunderstood or judged as unacceptable, had been removed. The simple act of distraction by our hands working, whether knitting or the simple stitch of quilting, has the power to free us from self-discrimination.

If churches really wanted to reach their community what better way of doing so than a community group that had the ability to really get to know its participants. Imagine the folk around the church area, coming together for a crafting purpose and whilst crafting, talking together about the issues that really matter.

The second thought came through a long term relationship with a local charity.

The Joanna project works in the red light area, going out at night to meet the women as they work and pray, feed and care for them. During the day they also have a safe house where the women can come and eat, shower and see a number of professionals to get help to change their lives for the better.

Sometimes, when you get to know a woman who has suffered from unspeakable abuse, there’s a feeling that you just want to reach out and hug them.

When you think about a hug, this act of holding onto someone and not letting go because you think it makes them feel safe. It might work for some, but when working with someone who knows what it’s like to be forced against their will, it can feel like being trapped all over again.

Speaking personally, because it’s all I can do, I know what it’s like to be trapped. To be in a position where someone has you pinned down, you’re not free to wriggle out or step away. I know the fear of being held against my will and when someone comes to hug me, there’s often the same feeling.

I know that most people are hugging you as a sign of love, but for those who know entrapment, a hug isn’t that different. Quite often it’s a spontaneous act that’s done without asking permission. I was reminded of the fear that comes with a hug last week when I was at a workshop on poverty. I was speaking about mental illness and was saying something rather difficult and filled with emotion. A woman I didn’t know jumped up and came quickly behind me and hugged me.

I understand that she was doing something she thought was a nice gesture, but I’ve experienced people coming behind me and putting their arms around me, only it wasn’t done out of kindness.

How do you hug someone, when a hug can do more harm than good?

And that’s how the Quilts of Hope project was born.

Imagine a quilt, hand stitched with messages of love and hope, sewn together by people at community quilting workshops, where folk from all backgrounds come together, sit around a quilting frame and stitch together. Pouring their love of vulnerable women into squares which are turned into a physical textile ‘hug’.

In one sense, a community of people, gathering for an evening in a church hall, learning the basics of quilting, and experiencing a place where they are free to talk openly about their lives in an atmosphere of acceptance. Where church folk can start the process of making real friends and connections with folk in the community.

But then, what is made from these workshops, a quilt given to a women’s shelter.

Where, at a woman’s most vulnerable moment, when a physical hug can cause pain, she can wrap herself in the quilt, giving herself total freedom of movement, can rest beneath the quilt, read the messages of love, and feel safe and loved knowing there are hundreds of women behind the quilt, all praying for and loving her.

Finally, the first quilt has been finished and the next question for me begins.

How does a piece of cloth become a spiritual object?

Behind the Quilts of Hope is a belief that our prayers can go with the quilt to the women we do not know. I don’t know who will use the quilt, I don’t know the needs of the people who will bury themselves underneath it, so all I have is the prayers I pray for the unknown women, that’s something only God knows.

I’ve always thought that I’d like some sort of blessing said over a quilt before it’s sent off, perhaps five minutes of a church service where the church pray for the women who will use the quilt and perhaps where those who’ve worked on the quilt can come and see off their square once it’s been joined to the whole.

Yet, now that time has come, it feels somewhat silly (again, that inner voice of self-doubt) Does it matter that a church has had a final prayer? Aren’t the silent prayers of the individual quilters enough? Well, of course they are, but somehow, I want a final… well, a final blessing. Does that sound crazy?

I remember as a child, our Sunday School got a new piano, well new to us!

I remember clearly listening to the Sunday school leader talking about the piano having a history, pointing out a ring stain left from perhaps a pint of beer, and the question that maybe once, this piano had a very different life. Then I remember praying for the piano, and it’s new life being used for God.

I remember too, a collection of brass instruments being donated and sent to Africa where they were needed, and I remember the instruments being laid on the mercy seat and praying over them.

So it’s certainly not a new idea, and I wonder whether this is something that God is putting on my heart because He also thinks it’s an important part of the quilt process.

My next question is this, What would that blessing look like?

And here’s where I need your thoughts, please comment or email your thoughts on this.

How do we hand over the quilt? Do we invite a staff member from the joanna project to come and be handed the quilt? Do we lay the quilt at the front of church for people to lay a hand on it? Do I just ask for prayers or do I spend a couple of minutes explaining the ideas behind the project?

I really look forward to hearing what people think about this.

In the meantime I start on the next quilt. This time for the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit. I have no idea where this one will end up, except that it’ll be used for people who’ve experienced being trafficked in the U.K.

I’m thinking, perhaps the people who will need this quilt won’t have English as a first language, so I’ve been asking for squares with hearts on… a universal sign of love. However, messages are welcome too!

I’m still a few squares short, so if you want to make a square email me for details. Also (a little pitch here) if you want the quilts of hope project to come to your church or community group, please get in touch. I can only make these quilts if people invite me to come and make them with you.

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Meaning in the cloth – rethinking the prayer shawl

I used to read the story of Cain and Abel and wonder what was Gods problem.

In case you don’t know the story here’s a little summary…

Cain was a farmer while Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. Both brothers came to God with a sacrifice. Cain brought some of his grown produce while Abel brought his best first-born lambs. Now God liked Abels offering of lambs, but, well… not too fussed with the veggies. The rest of the story can be read in Genesis chapter 4.


As a kid I didn’t get it, two guys brought a gift to God and God was a wee bit picky. 

Being British we’re raised with the ability to smile and look pleased whatever the gift, but God obviously isn’t British (where were his manners?).

Shouldn’t he be grateful that he’s getting something?

It’s not for me to argue with God about his reactions though, He wants the best, the first fruits and first borns. God wants to be the first thought on our minds and have the first portion of our gifts. In everything we do God wants first place.

I don’t think it was about making sure they gave 10% and perhaps it wasn’t even that the carrots weren’t the biggest. The meaning behind the gift is what riled God. You can imagine Abel looking over his flock, inspecting every animal for flaws and size, then picking the best of the best, as though this gift was for his beloved. Cain, watching Abels fussiness, laughed to himself while throwing a handful of the nearest veg into a basket, “that’ll do” he thinks.

You might know that feeling at Christmas when you give a gift that you’ve chosen especially and being aware that the real excitement is in the giving. Was Abel thinking of Gods face lighting up at the sight of God looking at his gift and seeing that most beautiful of lambs?

Similarly we might also know the feeling of giving a gift in politeness, those folk at the bottom of the Christmas card list who get whichever card is next in the box of 100. Who cares what the card looks like, its giving for the tradition and politeness rather than the Joy. That, I suspect is what riled God that day. He didn’t want a gift out of politeness but out of love.
When thinking about a prayer shawl what is our first thoughts?

Learning a new technique? Wondering how quickly you can get it finished? 

Do you have any thoughts on the reasons why you make the shawl? 

I know what its like to make something with royalty in mind (yep, I’ve kept quiet about that!). I chose yarn from a Yorkshire mill that could promise British only fleeces. I spent a couple of days hand dying the yarn myself. Every little bit of the item was made as thought the Queen herself would see it, no detail was missed, the stuffing wasn’t your average polyester, it was British wool, even the pipe cleaner arms that would never be seen were chosen by hand from a local pipe cleaner factory. The item was to be my very best work.

If clothing the naked and feeding the hungry is the same as clothing and feeding God then each prayer shawl should be made as though God himself was the recipient. Similarly, if each recipient is to see the shawl as a gift from God, then each shawl should be made with our best effort as though God himself had commissioned the gift.

Therefore, making a prayer shawl no longer becomes a second rate ministry but a valuable resource in the church.

Say what you like about the value of a church band, but someone in need has to come to church to hear the band play, they need to know the words to the tune and understand the poetry in the song. A prayer shawl is one of the few gifts that go beyond the church walls, beyond the boundaries of language and country. Giving a gift that has been made with so much thought and love, then given to be used when encouragement is needed is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures.

After the band have played the last note, the choir have sat down, the sermon done, the Amen said… the prayer shawl continues on and travels with the person in need.

The prayer shawl though, isn’t a magic cure. It isn’t a vessel to carry healing, and touching the shawl won’t turn around test results, if healing comes it comes through Gods choosing. It’d be romantic to imagine a physical prayer soaking into cloth, but the shawl, at it’s basic level remains simply a shawl. 

However, it still has something magical about it. In those moments when pain comes, when bereavement is unbearable, when loneliness surrounds, being able to wrap ourselves in a piece of cloth made by someone who thought of nothing but us in the making allows us to temporarily dwell in the presence of comfort, hope and fellowship.

I have two small toy bean bag cats in my home, financially worthless and commercially made, but given to me some years ago by a couple at church. Brian and Cathy were there in my darkest times, if I told you what they did for me, well, this blog post would never end.

Cathy died a few years ago from cancer and Brian has retired and moved away. There is nothing magical about the toy cats, but everytime I see them I’m taken back to a world where they are with me. I’m reminded that there is someone out there who loves me unconditionally, someone who values me as I am. I’m reminded of the many times Brian helped me quit drinking, of the times he let me sleep it off in his office. The years Cathy spent counselling me as a messed up young person, of the Joy in their faces at my baptism, the comfort when I lost my job, the worry when I moved to Leeds and the celebration when I went to University.

As I write this the tears flow and my heart hurts, but its a joyful cry and a blessed pain. Few people know unconditional love like that couple gave me and that is a real shame. As an alcoholic I accept the lifelong fight of sobriety, but I have two weapons, two soft toy cats that I look at and remember those who stand with me and I remind myself that this fight is worth it.

Nothing magical in the toys and yet something very magical.


A prayer shawl at its root is simply a strand of yarn looped together to form a piece of cloth. It is something that someone has taken hours to make and think about, but it is more than something to do with your time, more than a way of using up your yarn stash and more than a way to make something when you simply don’t know what to do.

To be called to the prayer shawl ministry is a powerful calling, it is listening to Gods commissioning, his choice of recipient perhaps without knowing why we are making the item. Being able to put our best work into a piece then hand it over without finanancial reward, personal acknowledgement perhaps even without knowing the outcome. Trusting wholly in the gift of giving for loves sake.

As I continue to look at this unique ministry I hope more and more people will begin to take up the call of this powerful ministry. I hope more and more churches begin to see the true value of a creative ministry in their church.

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How the Salvation Army changed the world.

I grew up in the Salvation Army (have I mentioned that before?) listening to the stories of the Army before I was born.

I heard how the ‘Army’ produced the first safety matches. Taking on the UK match companies that left poor workers with the awful occupational disease Phossy Jaw.

Or how we began the employment agencies over 100 years ago, well of course we did. Suddenly we have a church that is saving alcoholics and the newly sober people needed steady work, how else would we respond?

Or how we helped bring about changes in the law of underage sex and child slavery by our part in rescuing a girl sold by her parents for £5.

This week alone, I’ve had two conversations with people who’ve mentioned how older folk give money to the Army because of what we did for their husbands in the war.

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It’s all wonderful… and yet…

It feels as though, the last couple days, the UK has suddenly woke to the scandal of our Government and it’s abusive benefit cuts.

How did this happen? How did they manage to, overnight, put parents in the position of losing £120 a week, receiving just 50p a week from the Government in housing benefit support?

But this isn’t an overnight thing, the government have been bullying the poor for several years.

The country have, over the past few years, been enjoying the ever growing number of TV shows about benefit cheats, scroungers, “too lazy to work” streets and the huge number of kids everyone on benefits have. I’ve watched people’s attitudes harden as they sit around their TV’s shaking their heads at the seeming audacity of scroungers claiming something they’ve never worked for.

At this point in my rant/post I need to add a Disclaimer:

I apologise in advance to my mum, nephew and anyone else who I name in this post. I love you all, but I’m so annoyed that I can’t be bothered to change names today.

Okay, that’s done.

I sat in the car with my retired Salvation Army officer mother a few weeks ago and she started telling me about a woman she had seen on TV. The shame that this woman received so much benefit and was on TV saying it wasn’t enough… that is, until I spent time with my mum breaking down the woman’s likely weekly expenses and mum realised it didn’t leave her with money for food.

My mum, who spent decades of active officership working with homeless and mentally unwell people had somehow lost her ability to recognise the situation of the poor.

Anyway, I wasn’t writing this post about benefit cuts…

My church has recently started asking for more people in the congregation to attend the weekly lunch club it runs. I went a few weeks ago and for £3.50, me, and 12 elderly people, enjoyed a three course basic meal.

My church (or Corps to those Army folk who don’t like to think of us as a church) is situated in a large and poorer part of South Leeds, surrounded by HMO’s (Houses of Multiple Occupancy). Drugs, addiction and prostitution is rife in the area, so a perfect location for an Army hall.

We have a lunch for anyone to enjoy, four times a week, for a mere £3.50. You’d think we would be packing the place with hungry locals, but in fact, lunch club is dying.

Yes, there are patches of nice housing in the area, and patches of elderly housing, but there’s a lot of single people, young single people on benefits living in HMO’s. (I’ve written about HMO’s in the past too)

A single young person on benefits gets £57.90 a week. If we imagine a situation where all his/her rent is paid by housing benefit (hopefully, this is the case), how much is left for that person if they live in a HMO?

Gas/electricity/water  £10-15 perhaps

Weekly bus pass  £15

Basic food (tea bags, bread, milk etc..)  £5-10

Mobile phone*  £15

Even with just these four essential bills it leaves just over £10 for main meals, TV licence, clothing, taking a girl on a date, a drink in a pub to talk to another human, basic toiletries.

Imagine too, the mental strain of living in a room smaller than some peoples bathrooms, having your cooker a few feet from your bed. Having to remember to take loo roll every time you need to go to the shared toilet, neighbours fighting through thin walls, and the stench of marijuana from the guy below.

How wonderful it would be for that single person to be able to escape the confines of the HMO and have a hot meal at my church in it’s spacious dinning room with access to free wifi. To be able to sit with others and talk to someone rather than feel imprisoned in the cell-like place they call home.

But as I pointed out in another blog post, £3.50 is too expensive for the most desperate people in my churches area.

I think we have a situation where our Army folk have forgotten what it’s like to be poor.

Again, this post wasn’t about the shame of the HMO’s…

This week I saw a new Lap dance club given permission to be set up in Leeds.

“What do you mean by another one” I hear you say, “How many do we have?”

Well enough that one website has a top 5 list of the best ones. One of which is within walking distance of my church I might add.

Do I need to explain what’s wrong with treating women as sexual objects? or how I’ve seen women in our legalised prostitution area charge less than a Costas coffee for sex?

And, yet, this blog isn’t about prostitution either…

Yesterday my nephew took me out for my birthday, (yeah, thanks, it was a nice day).

I’ve had a few chats recently with him about life, the Army, God and romance.

A couple of years ago he gave up two years and a lot of money to train as a youth worker in the Salvation Army, and yet, I was sitting with him asking why his bible had a light covering of dust and he didn’t seem happy at his church, so much that he seems to have stopped going.

I recognised myself in him, as a young person, attending youth events and getting fired up by stories of the old Army. How, as a young person in the Army, he has the ability of changing the world for good and for God. I’ve seen his room filled with postcards and tokens from music schools and youth events that are supposed to remind him of his power to change the world.

Yet, yesterday I saw a young man with no outlet for his vision. I recognise myself, as a young woman, wanting to work with homeless people and being fired up by big church youth meetings, then coming home to my local church and being told there was nothing for me to do. I sat there, talking to this young man, trained by the church as a youth worker, but given no youth to work with, and so, he has an air of giving up about him.

Earlier that day he’d dropped off his money for another week of music school in the Summer and I worry how many young people feel hurt after a week of being built up, only to return to their church and find no part for them to play. I know it was one of the reasons I gave up church as a young person, and I see him in a similar way. I wonder too, how many vacant chairs in our churches were once filled by someone wanting to do ‘something’, but not given a chance.

Our young people are sent to camp to have the fire in their belly ignited, but then sent home and not given fuel for the fire.

“But they’re just young people”, I hear some of you older folk say,

You should come sometime, to the office where I get my university business support from. They’re you’ll see dozens of young people starting and running successful businesses, making a living and a difference despite having a lack of years.

And again, I say this blog post wasn’t about the lack of opportunity in our churches…

This blog is about how the Salvation Army in the UK once changed the world. I would have liked to have said How the Salvation Army in the UK is changing the world, but I’m not sure I can say that at the moment.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are doing many amazing things, it’s just, well…

Going back to the conversations I’ve had this week, you would think the public only think we worked in the war.

Our recent public face makes us appear that we’re more concerned with how a gay celebrity can have a uniform made that won’t cause us offence rather than the growing poverty concerns.

Last weeks Salvationist newspaper seemed more concerned with playing April Fools than speaking of the fire we should have for human rights.

I’ve heard more about people upset that they’re not bringing back the bonnet than upset that our neighbours are in need. I heard of a band master outraged about the joke including woodwind instruments in the ISB, so outraged that he was about to request a refund on a concert ticket because he didn’t want to hear woodwind. (Incidentally, this band master is the only one who allowed my flute into his band, so I don’t know why it’s such a problem). Is that his passion? His righteous anger is focused on buying a brass band concert ticket and the disgraceful possibility of having to listen to a few violins?

In a few years time, when those who fought in the world wars are gone, will we have people to replace those who give because of what we did 70 years ago?

We seem obsessed by asking our people for money, making sure our members buy fair trade, having matching church outfits, and driving our fancy cars to our fancy homes outside of the rough area of our church location.

I don’t have a fancy car or house and I live in one of those poorer areas, but I speak to myself as much as to the richer members of church.

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not doing anything about the hundreds of mostly men living within walking distance of church and living in poverty, loneliness and hunger?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not picketing outside government buildings with placards stating that “the Army does not approve” of their cuts to the disabled and poor?

Why am I (and fellow Army members) not in the local public and committee meetings demanding the local council stop allowing more places of sexual exploitation?

Why are we content to play our music on quiet streets, playing songs people no longer know the words to, when we should be playing a battle cry outside parliament?

I hear you groaning at me, mumbling that the last TV series about the Army also showed us washing the feet of the homeless. Brilliant, and important to do, but so are many other Christian churches.

And yes, I recognise the number of soup kitchens we run, but again, standard church requirement these days.

We were called to be an Army though, not an average church. We were supposed to be at the front showing how it’s done, but we’re just another face in the crowd now. The early Salvation Army paved the way and left us a legacy that makes people and governments sit up and listen when we speak, but we’re wasting away and keeping far too silent on the war time issues.

Okay, okay, I’m ranting.

I’m angry, but as guilty as the next salvationist.

So why the rant?

I feel at a cross roads. I am in the Army, not because I was brought up in it, but because Christianity, for me, is also about action. I can’t talk about a God of Love and walk past my downtrodden fellow man and I want a church who feels the same way.

I also accept that I am about to start my final year at university and, well, time right now just isn’t a luxury for me.

I might be getting a degree in textiles, but my heart is for the homeless, if I was to choose between a job in a fashion house and less paid work with homeless people I’d choose the homeless person every time.

Being so close to the end of uni I keep thinking about life when it ends and I admit, I don’t quite see a place for me in an Army not in action. I wasn’t made for the wealthy lifestyle or the 9-5 office job, I was raised amongst the homeless, raised to fight for the needy and I’ve sat idle for far too long.

I have friends, in a church, who give everything they have so they can help others, and I look at my friends church and it appeals to me… it appeals to me very much.

And yet, I’m very much aware that I’m here, as a member of the Salvation Army, by no accident. Even my textile degree projects seems to have the Army running through them.

How has it come to the point where a non-uniform wearing salvationist has to say what the leaders should have been saying?

…6…7…8…9…10, okay deep breath.

I don’t know where this rant is taking me, I don’t know whether anyone will feel the passion I feel in this, but well, as another birthday passes, and I adjust my year of birth to fit my alleged age again, I just felt something on my heart that I needed to speak.

I worry about our world, whether my neighbours will manage with the next round of benefit cuts and difficulties. I recognise a hurt people taking their anger out in the voting booths and I worry for where this will lead us.

A quote often used these days is this:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if, one only remembers to turn on the light”  – Albus Dumbledore, a great wizard, and perhaps in another life, a Salvationist.

We are supposed to be the lights that point to Jesus, truth and righteousness, we’re part of an Army that grew from poverty and the slums that sadly are returning, but without ignition, we’re just dull, grey bulbs.

Rant over.

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Links for more reading:

https://glynnharrison.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/when-william-booth-took-on-the-big-manufacturers-of-safety-matches-and-won/  Also read the link to the article this was written about talking about the Church of England and the dreadful Wonga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39484897

http://michaelgallagherwrites.com/lizzie-blaylock-books/bridge-of-dead-things/eliza-armstrong.html

*I know many wealthier people think a mobile is a luxury, but try job searching without a phone and you’ll realise how vital it is. You can’t even claim benefits without making a lengthy phone call and having internet access.

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Under the bushel

I found this video on Youtube recently and wanted to share it with you all…

 

The video talks about Gordon, a former cabinet maker who found his career ending because of our changing tastes. Our need for a fast, cheap, disposable lifestyle left Gordon without employment and forced onto the streets.

The Salvation Army recently changed the name of their hostels to lifehouses, and I grumbled at the cost of coming up with such a name (I’m a Yorkshire lass who calls a spade a spade). I still don’t think much to the name, but I’m glad we have some places left where homeless people can find their feet.

Although my dissertation and much of my research is on spirituality and textiles, as a lover of the ‘old’ ways and crafts I found this video truly wonderful.

A perfect example of how craft skills can be used for good and for the church. Gordon now volunteers (it’s a shame his unique skills couldn’t end in paid work) at a Salvation Army charity shop in Glasgow.

Then again, is his amazing painting skills, and the willingness for the charity shop to hold a mini gallery.

The real beauty though, is in people putting Gordon’s skills and opportunities together. That’s where the real magic happens.

There seems to be a lack of connection between people and skills, especially in the church. I expect many people are nodding their heads at this, and perhaps some nodding in annoyance feeling unused. (Grrrr, no one ever asks me to take the collection!)

The bitterness of attending a church and feeling as though you have no part to play is soul destroying and maybe even a large part in people feeling church isn’t for them anymore.

The old saying, ‘use me or lose me’ comes to mind.

I want to ask who’s fault is it? but I suspect the ‘blame’ is more a lack of confidence for most of us. We might sit there seeing a void and knowing we could fill it, yet we don’t have the confidence to put ourselves forward.

Some time ago church had a trend of getting folks to complete forms to find out where our gifts lay. Like a cosmopolitan quiz finding your ideal partner, the church quiz decided whether we were a hostess, preacher, listener or one of the dozen other skills the Bible lists. The church then could use the results to funnel it’s congregation into the relevant vacant position. The end hope was that everyone had a place in church and a role that suited their abilities.

It all sounded great, until you look at your individual church and realise what works in one, won’t work in another, besides, they didn’t need a social media guru back then. I always thought a better idea would be for everyone in the church to hand in their CV’s, probably the only document where we are confident enough to be honest (and perhaps boastful).

I think about people like my nephew who studied sound recording at university, yet was never asked to work the sound desk at church. What better option than someone with a degree in the subject?

I wonder whether giving him a job he was good at and enjoyed might have encouraged him to keep turning up on Sundays.

And yet, did the church know? Did they realise they had a professional in their midst?

The Bible says we shouldn’t hide our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15) but that’s exactly what we do. Our confidence has been knocked by the world (and sometimes the church) and it’s not easy to raise ourselves up and point out our abilities.

We are in need of those miracle people who have the vision to stand in the gap between our ability and the churches need.

That person in Glasgow who figured out Gordon’s skills were just what was needed in the charity shop, that shop worker who spotted his talent as an artist and realised he needed an exhibition.

These are the miracles that bring a man back on his feet, the opportunities that can only be seen by visionaries.

 

So what next for Gordon?

Perhaps he could design and build a mercy seat that helped disabled people to approach without the option of sitting on it and facing the congregation?

Maybe he could be used to design the facilities at some of the new lifehouses, with his personal experience and craftsmanship.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

 

 

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Of the Cloth – A meeting with the Reverend

My first impressions, when I think about the Anglican Church and cloth is one of extravagance.  I imagine gold worked embroidered headwear, lavishly designed altar cloths and endless men in long dresses. I realise, I know little about the Anglican Church.

So with my perceived image of the church I went to visit the Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, currently a Vicar in Gipton, Leeds. 

One of the first things I noticed is actually how little fancy wear there was. On the whole Kathryn wears plain long robes, made from good quality fabrics with well thought out details like double inner pockets and fringes not for religious reasons, but the simple need to make the robe last as long as possible. 


The robes could be made cheaper with less expensive fabrics, but the saying “buy cheap, buy twice” could be a mantra for the church. Kathryn’s own surplice, bought in 1999, is still worn today and looking good for years to come.  

I asked about the idea of Sunday best, where did it come from? 

This idea that we turn up at church looking as though we lead perfect lavish lives, then the rest of the week we (at least I do) wander around in scruffy jeans and t-shirts.

I’ve always seen the Sunday best idea as a false image. Would God really be impressed if I turn up on Sunday in my party frock when he sees me the other 6 days of the week pulling on my almost worn out grey M&S knickers?

Kathryn explains that the Sunday best goes back to a time when we only had two sets of clothing, one for workdays and one for special occasions and Sunday. It also has roots in a Biblical sense of giving our best to God, going back to Cain and Abel’s offerings, but I’m not convinced God is that excited about my fashion sense as much as He is about my offering and sacrifice.

The robes are designed to cover her everyday clothing underneath and are plain in design. Kathryn explained that this helps take the focus away from her and towards God. This is especially important as a woman. Female actors will often be asked questions on how they dieted for a role, where their male counterparts will be asked how they mentally prepared, or their fitness regime. The same is true of the church, women will be judged on their hair, make-up (or lack of) and dress sense.

The robe takes away the ability to judge Kathryn on her personal dress sense and makes people see her simply as a woman of God.


Although the everyday robes are plain, they are decorated with simple stoles, like a scarf around the neck, these decorated items turn the plain robe into a fancy garment of celebration. Kathryn has a box of them, each with it’s own story and personally made or inherited with her in mind. These hand made one off pieces must have taken time and expertise to make, they look expensive and probably would be out of many people’s price range. 

In truth, the church pays very little for it’s textiles. Kathryn owns her own everyday robes and stoles, and the church own a small quantity of special occasion chasubles which have been made to last long enough to cover the costs. 

Kathryn takes me into the church, a simple building with little decoration, just a plain altar cloth at the front in green, the colour of the season. As Kathryn shows me around the church I begin to see the value of the cloth. Her stoles each hold a personal story for her, but each also tell a story.  

Illiteracy is still around but many years ago it was the poor who were often lacking in schooling. Like church windows telling bible stories, these stoles each tell their own simple tale. The journey bringing Kathryn to work in Leeds amongst the poor (I first met Kathryn through Leeds Poverty Truth), flames hinting at the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, Bread and Wine reminding us of communion.

Kathryn leads me to a smaller, side room with a smaller altar. The cloth on this altar is her favourite. Made by people in the church it tells the tale of the communities darker moments, when poverty and crime were high. The people on the cloth seem to flee from a broken home to the peace and hope of God. In the middle of the home split in two is a cross, reminding everyone that in the middle of the brokenness is the church. It’s not just a nice story and a nice image, it’s a re-telling of the church and community’s history. 

Kathryn explains that the majority of textiles in the church and her own property were made as an offering to the church or to Kathryn to honour the work she is doing. Kathryn explained that an embroiderers gift to the church is as important as the choirs singing. 

That, for me, sums up my own feelings in church, as a member of the Salvation Army. Some might question the cost of an altar cloth or wall hangings, yet have unlimited resources when providing for the church musicians. It often seems as though church participation is best served through music and the non-musical have no option but to sit back and watch. Yet if we believe that Christianity is for the whosoever then we need to consider all contributors, all gifts as equally valued in his house. 
If we valued other gifts in our worship would our services change? Would we see artists bringing in their easels to paint what God shows them through the service?  

Rather than a craft table at the back of the hall to keep kids quiet, will we ever see creative gifts other than the musical ones being equally valued in all the churches?