A Sanctuary and a Light

header_47Church Hostel Bangor is up for sale.  aka The Anglican Chaplaincy, more affectionately: AngChap or simply for those of us who lived and worked there ‘home from home’.

We were always walking a tightrope whilst juggling the twin identities of this place, Hostel and Chaplaincy.  Whether doing the accounts and applying for money, or justifying the existence of either to churches and dioceses.  We created an intentional community taking 25 or so students, throwing them together in a building attempting to create some form of community for a year.  Some years it worked better than others.

I’ve never been fond of church buildings in general because once established it is very difficult to let them go when they are no longer needed!  Hence the title of the book “Beyond these walls”. Though it is useful to have a place from which to come and go.  AngChap served that purpose well.  I was, however, surprised at the level of emotion welling up when I heard the news that Church Hostel was up for sale.  Hostel and Chaplaincy have for a number of years taken separate journeys in Bangor.  So as Hostel it was Sanctuary.  A home, a place of welcome and of hospitality.  Often with rather wild parties, gatherings and events.  Much like any other student accommodation I imagine.  This was met with Chaplaincy, which offered the Light (to lighten the gentiles).  It was indeed a place to come and go from.  A Sanctuary and a Light.  This twin purpose is perhaps the reason for the emotion.  For it is always in the relationships with others that such memories are formed.  The building for a time was, perhaps, a thin place.  But it was those who gathered there who made it so.  Gathered and scattered, more often than not scattered.  Though we often began at AngChap, we found ourselves around the world in that community.  Sent out to far and near for new experiences and challenges.  To discover new places and meet new folk.  To gather stories and return to tell others.  Every memory comes with people in mind, for it was the folk who gathered who made it what it was, who marked it out as special.  It was a place which spoke of, as the plaque in peace garden testifies, “The Love which moves the Sun and the other stars.”

bbq008I always remember one line from my dissertation written on Chaplaincy.  It was from another chaplain who did not have a building to work from.  He wrote that chaplaincy for them was ‘Abramic’.  One pitches ones tent wherever it is needed.  Perhaps then the tent will be re-pitched and one hopes that there will continue to be opportunities to offer both the Sanctuary and Light that so many of us enjoyed, revelled in and were moulded by in years past.

A chrismas list

It is most odd to me that many people often say, ‘O vicar, this is your Busy Time’.  As if I have the rest of the year off.  The more enlightened might mention something about Easter as well.  I’ve never come up with a suitable retort and have resigned myself to the benign ‘yes there is a lot to do’.  Or perhaps the more risqué ‘it is the Silly Season’.  Then there is the last straw answer – ‘Well people only seem to want two things at this time of year, Beer and God, too much of either is a bad thing’.  As I look around at others this year I find myself bemused at this suggestion that it is my busy time.  Everyone is busy!!  And most people are busier than I am.  I’ve always been relatively laid back – some might say horizontal at times.  But I do find myself stepping back from the mad rush towards the 25th December.  It is of course still Advent, that strange period of time before Christmas through which many want to rush headlong towards the day itself.  A time for preparation – but also a time for fasting before the feast, for repentance and reflection.  A time to make ready for Christmas and to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.  What then does it mean to be ‘prepared’ for Christmas?  Advent is ultimately a time for reflection on the past and the yet to come, so Dickens’ a Christmas Carol should really be renamed an Advent Carol.  To be prepared perhaps like the five wise bridesmaids who trimmed their lamps.  It might be useful to think about exactly what it is we are preparing for this Christmas, and the key question rather than how should I prepare for Christmas is:  ‘What is Christmas preparing us for?’  In preparation therefore this Advent for Christmas:  A list.


Listening to endless replays of 70’s classics, or not so classic songs e.g. Slade, The Pogues

There are many trials and tribulations along any journey to be endured

Shopping for gifts, the waiting and frustration.  Queue’s at the checkout.

The more adventurous we are on our journey, the more we appreciate the destination.  We didn’t expect a journey in the company of Jesus to be an easy ride?

Writing and Sending Cards

Don’t loose touch with those dear to us – just because they are out of sight…

The Advent Calendar and Advent Wreath

Looking forward, looking backward, reflecting on where we have been and where we are going.  Waiting in patience is a virtue not to be underestimated.

School Nativity Play(s), Pantomime, TV, Entertainment – The Christmas Film – Carol Services.

We are all story tellers, whether we think we are or not, the stories we tell help us to understand who we are.

The all important Food.  The turkey or Goose, Mulled Wine and Mince Pies

When we prepare food for others,  we entertain Angels unaware.  

Tidy the house for guests

Putting our mind in order is important to, spiritually we often need to ‘tidy up’.

Preparing gifts.

Are we ready though, this Christmas to receive the ultimate gift?

So busy time or not?,  maybe it should be, busy preparing for what Christmas brings home to us each year – the kingdom.  As the T-Shirt says:  Look busy, Jesus is coming

Less dust, more Glory

I reflected, (much to everyone’s amusement) last week on dust. I don’t want to repeat that experience, but I do want to go back to the beginning of the journey that I related and do it all again.  Perhaps we missed something at the first attempt.  It is transfiguration Sunday today as we look (forward) to Lent.  We too need to glimpse a little of the Glory along with the disciples.  They knew not what they saw, and poor old Mark writing down their experiences does a poor job of advertising God’s washing powder, – more powerful than Daz Automatic, brighter than white washing.  I want to stay on the theme of adverts though for just a minute as one in particular may help to illustrate that train journey in a different, perhaps less critical way than last week.  You may remember the TA adverts.  Soldiers going about their business, a cartoon bubble appears above their head and describes their day job.  Teacher.  Lawyer.  Bin-man.  Stood side by side in those uniforms, who would guess there was another side to their lives.  The advert is twinned with another.  Almost the opposite.  It shows a teacher, a lawyer, a bin-man.  This time the captions read:  Gunner, Mechanic, Tank Commander.  Who would know without knowing each of these people that there was another side, something hidden if you like.  The only way of finding out is through conversation.  So what of my journey?  What was behind the veil as it were of those travelling with me?  Sad to say I didn’t make conversation with all of them to find out, but were there glimpses of the glory? What I mean by that is, is it possible to glimpse what God is doing in the lives of others.  Glimpse something of another life, something which connects back to our own.  These little glimpses are actually everywhere and yet we seldom notice them.  Seeing instead what is on the outside and not looking deeper.  We must learn to look in the right way, to pay attention to what is actually there rather than what our mind tells us we are really seeing.  It is partly about seeing the best in people and partly about not letting our own prejudices run away with our imaginations.  I have to admit it was only by the time I had reached cardiff that I had begun to look in such a way.  Perhaps because I’m not a city dweller, or just to prejudiced against those in suits with briefcases, though not all were by any means!  Though the unwritten rule of the Tube train is:  Don’t stand out from the crowd and certainly don’t make eye contact, I wonder if there were those for whom a little human contact would have gone a long way?  In a familiar city it was easier to walk a little lighter, not ‘greener’ but perhaps slower, and with more time to take things in.  Rather than a crowd of people rushing somewhere, each seemed to be more of an individual with their own cares and worries.  Each person was uniquely made and doing what was important for them at that moment.  If you looked hard enough the anxious look or happiness or contentment was possible to spot and with a word or two of greeting in passing the response gave away more of the ‘hidden life’  So it is with the Glory of God.  Engagement is very important for without it the glory which is there, fails to catch our attention and no matter how white the washing, it will appear as another white sheet rather than something altogether different and magnificent.