Lent 5: Beware the Ides of March

This week I spent some time at the nursing home. It happened to be the 15th March, also known as the anniversary of the death of Julius Caesar. Julius had been told to beware the ‘Ides of March’  but in his arrogance had ignored the warnings and ended up being attacked and murdered by Brutus and his supporters – ‘et tu Brutus’ he cries as he finds his ‘friend’s’ dagger in his back. What though are ‘the ides of March’? A resident told me that they are the first sharp blades or shoots of spring flowers, which before they open and bloom look like daggers.

There are similarities between Caesar’s betrayal and Jesus’. Both are betrayed by people they had considered to be loyal friends and colleagues, brothers in arms; both end up dead; both betrayers also end up dying.

In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of his death as though it were simply a seed being planted. We know that any seed, whether it be a tiny round dot of a thing, or a much larger, awkwardly shaped bulb, needs to be buried. In the ground it may seem forgotten, lost, dead even; but there in the dark and the damp the seed, the bulb is doing wonderful things, it is producing roots and shoots, it is producing ‘ides’.

The portents and prophecies in Julius Caesar warn of his death, but in John the voice from heaven speaks of hope through death. A voice from heaven as loud as thunder, as wonderful as angels is heard to speak. Caesar disbelieves that anyone could wish him dead, Jesus knows that his time has come and he dreads it. The voice however, encourages him: God is still in control, Jesus’ death will not be the end, glory is yet to come.

Read it here. 

Something to pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, speak to us of the new life you have made possible through your stupendous sacrifice, your willingness to surrender all.

Unfold to us the true nature f discipleship – what it means to love and follow you – and help us, by your grace, to respond, dying to self and rising to new life with you, so that all we do and are may be by your power, in your service and to your glory.

Amen                                                                                                          Nick Fawcett

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The APCM and what I have learned from Mr Potato Head

The APCM is the pinnacle of the Institutional Church – the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. It is something that every vicar in the Church of England has to endure annually (as the title would suggest), for each church of which they are vicar. That can be a lot of meetings in multi-church benefices, especially in rural areas. The thing is, although these meetings have to take place, and there has to be a ‘chorate’ number of members attending, most members tend to view it as an ‘optional’ part of ‘being church’.

For the uninitiated, the APCM, actually consist of three meetings. The first is to elect the churchwardens. Contrary to popular belief, the churchwarden can be anybody from the parish as long as they are “actual communicants, baptised and over 21”, and is the only person who has the authority to evict people from church (although it should only be done if they are disrupting holy worship). Also contrary to popular belief, a churchwarden doesn’t serve for life. There are horror stories of chuchwardens who have only relinquished (or been relieved of) their posts when they have taken up residency in a coffin. There is actually a very specific term of office, and in addition they have to be  re-elected on an annual basis. The election of churchwardens is the sole business of the first meeting, and anyone who lives in the parish can vote, whether they come to church or not. This is the ‘Vestry Meeting’.

The second meeting is the main one – the actual APCM. At this meeting other members of the PCC (Parochial Church Council) are elected. The amount of PCC members depends on the size of the parish. These are the people who meet several times a year to discuss the business side of the church: repairs and maintenance of church and grounds and any other buildings the church has responsibility for; expenditure, planning the church fete,  ensuring that the church complies with current Diocesan guidelines. It may sound dull, and you may be wondering where Jesus fits in, but this infrastructure enables all the ‘fun’ things to happen – the mission and worship. Appointments are made at this meeting also: representatives of the local deanery chapter, auditor, sidesmen (and women). Accounts are scrutinised, and reports are heard. Most exciting of which is the report on goods and ornaments of the church – which is basically a stock check to make sure nothing has surreptitiously been removed from the building and sold on!

The third meeting is the inaugural PCC meeting of the year, during which coffee is drunk (occasionally something stronger) and more ‘offices’ are filled: treasurer, secretary, vice chair….

So what has this got to do with Mr (and Mrs) Potato Head? Well it is quite clear that when a limb or accessory or other feature is missing, the Potato Heads just don’t feel complete. They can still function, just not very well. St Paul said something similar when he described the church as a body. Every part of the body is vital and has an important role to play. Without it, the body limps along rather than dances. The same with the church: everybody has a role to play. Sadly the APCM which should really be a celebration of the life of the church, often feels as if it is something to be dreaded. There may be a contentious issue to be discussed alongside the business: seating can often boil the blood in otherwise peaceful churchgoers. However, usually the most stressful part of both the meeting and the lead up to it, is trying to find people willing to stand for election and fill the appointments.

According to St Paul we all have different gifts and abilities given to us by God to be used in his service and in supporting others in the life of the church. It should be as simple as matching the person and their gift with the task ahead. The trouble is, willingness is also a key element, and there aren’t many people willing enough to take on the responsibilities.

And so the church feels a bit like this:

When it should look like this:

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Mothering Sunday: Shall I be Mum?

We are half way to Easter, half way through the Lenten period of fasting. It is time to pause and be refreshed, and if we were working in service away from home, a time to return to ‘Mother Church’ and some home comforts.

We are half way to the cross, and today’s Bible passage reminds us that Jesus was some mother’s son. Yes he is Lord and King and Messiah, but he is also the little boy who bruised his knee, the adolescent celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, the young man who has grown so much that he now looks down on his mum. In today’s gospel passage we are reminded briefly of that mother-child relationship, of the ‘Little Lord Jesus’ of the children’s carol, as he looks down at her from the cross.

It is said that when a soldier is injured or dying in battle they call out for two people: for God and for their mum. Here God is calling out to his mum, but not that she should comfort him, cradle him as the wounded little child he once was, but to comfort and protect her.

Jesus is dying. He has been abandoned by (almost all) his friends and disciples, but the women who have been with him throughout his life are still here.

His mother, who knew from before he was born that he was destined for a life very different from the norm, who at his presentation at the temple was warned that her soul would be pierced with grief, is here, having her own painful prophecy fulfilled. His Aunt, Salome, mother of James and John, is here too. She who had sought special privileges for her sons, now sees just what those privileges would cost. We do not know if she is there to support her sister, her nephew, or even her own sons – John is lurking within this group too – but she gets to glimpse what may lay in store for them if they continue to follow Jesus. Two other Marys are also there, Clopas’ wife and Mary Magdelene – two disciples who had found such a deep connection they can’t let go, even now. Interestingly Clopas is not present: is he the same as Luke’s Cleopas who turns his back on the cross and is discovered walking towards Emmaus?

Each of these women is, in some way, being a mum to Jesus. We look on Mary and understand the heartbreak of a woman whose life is being torn apart as her son is  tortured to death in front of her, but the other women are in the process of being bereaved also. We look on in wonder as Jesus takes time not just to comfort his mother, but also to protect her by placing her in the care of his cousin, in a twist on Levirate Marriage (whereby a man takes in his brother’s widow), but do we also see his Aunt grieve her nephew and her son who is now not hers?

Each of these women would have just reason to not celebrate a day like today: Mothering Sunday. The mother who has lost a child, a mother whose sons are in danger, a woman who has never been married, a wife who as far as we know, has no children of her own, and her husband is in despair. However, these women are here to show that in God’s kingdom every woman is valuable, and every woman has a role to play not just in the kingdom of God, but in the family of his Church too.

Something to watch:

  • How was your Mothering Sunday spent this year?
  • What, if anything, brought you joy this Mothering Sunday?
  • What made you want to weep?
  • Do you identify with any of the women at the cross?
  • Do you identify with John or any other of the men mentioned only by their absence?
  • Why do you think it was important for Jesus to bring his mother and his cousin together in this way at this time?
  • Are there people we can bring together?
  • Who do we know who could need a little extra support at this time.

Something to do: Write a letter to a ‘hidden mum’.

Something to pray:

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Soul Food: Cake for the ‘Other Mothers’

Simnel Cake is, of course, the cake of choice for Mothering Sunday, it is loaded with tradition and meaning and marzipan; but what about the ‘Other Mothers’?

Inspired by the most recent episode of Bake Off, in which Martin Kemp tried to bake butter icing (I kid you not), and Paddington Bear, I have come up with these alternative cakes for all of our alternative ‘mothers’. The mothers like Great Aunt Lucy who took Paddington in when his own mother died, like Mrs Brown who saw an abandoned ‘child’ and rescued him, like Judy, the big sister who guided Paddington in a new culture, and like Mrs Bird who loved him unconditionally. Even, perhaps, Paddington’s own mother, no longer here but still loved and remembered.

In honour of all these mothers, the ones who didn’t give birth to us but have loved and guided us all the same, I present to you the Paddington Cupcake. The recipe is based upon one I found in a calendar, and was much appreciated by the mums at the Little Angels toddler group, including our very own, very special ‘Other Mother’ who sets up each week, nurtures and loves our children and tidies away afterwards.


  • 6oz butter, softened
  • 6oz soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten,
  • 1tsp groud cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 8 oz Self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp marmalade
  • 2 tbsp milk
  1. Set oven to 180c Gas 3.
  2. Prepare cupcake tins with liners (preferably duffle coat blue).
  3. Beat together the softened butter and sugar until smooth.
  4. Add the eggs and spices (it doesn’t seem to matter if the mixture curdles).
  5. Sieve in the flour and mix together until smooth again.
  6. Add the marmalade (I used my hubby’s homemade peel-less brand) and the milk and stir once more.
  7. Dollop equally into the cupcake cases and pop into the oven for about 10 mins until a light bear brown, they have a spring to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool on a rack and prepare the decorations.

The decorations in my mind need to reflect the iconic blue duffel coat and red felt hat – each rather battered. I had several variations in mind by opted for the simplest: a disc of blue fondant ‘glued’ into place with some watered down and heated up marmalade, and a hat fashioned out of some more fondant coloured red. I was tempted to make a teeny tiny marmalade sandwich to secrete under the hat too.

These Other Mother Cupcakes will be packaged up with love and ribbon and given to a Godparent who is one of the best.

Image may contain: dessert and food

Happy Other Mother’s Day!

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Lent 3: Trouble at the Temple

This is possibly one of the noisiest passages in the Gospels: there are cows and sheep, doves and coins of all denomination jangling around. It is also Passover so the city is full of religious tourists, and the Temple Courts are full of people wanting to buy their ritual purification – and others seeking to make a fortune out of this annual opportunity.

Enter Jesus. He is about to prove once and for that he is not ‘meek and mild’ – he is no pushover, no cheek turning pacifist, he is an angry young man, a righteously angry young man.

As if the scene wasn’t noisy enough, Jesus storms in, grabbing cords and shaping them into a whip, he sets the animals free driving them out of temple. He then pours out the money changers coins onto the floor and turns over the tables. There will be angry shouts from the traders and the religious leaders, people screaming from shock and fear as everything moves very quickly and danger seems close at hand. This feels like an uprising and the Roman Soldiers will only be moments away. Read it here.

In the midst of all this the disciples have a moment of clarity.

The disciples may seem a raggle taggle bunch of outsiders, troublemakers and fishermen, but they are all at heart ‘good Jewish boys’ – they have been taught their Torah, they regularly attend synagogues and go to the Temple for the festivals. When Jesus starts his protest they are reminded of a line from a Psalm of David,

It is zeal for your house that has consumed me.

Psalm 69:9

As these familiar words come to mind they see something new in Jesus. He is indeed the Son of David, the Messiah, and this turning of the tables is not simply a temper tantrum, this is a cleansing of a place of worship, the house of God, which has become polluted by greed.

The same disciples will have another moment of clarity once this event has come to its full conclusion, when Jesus has taken his place upon the cross.

In the midst of the chaos Jesus is asked for a sign to prove that he has authority to cleanse the temple. It seems as if the question is upside down really, what authority does anyone have to pollute it in the first place, to prevent others from worshipping God. Jesus doesn’t turn this question on its head though, instead he declares that if the Temple, this Temple is torn down,  he will raise it in three days.

This is nonsense. The Jerusalem temple is known for its grandeur, it has already taken 46 years to get to where it is and although the magnificence of the building is not to be rivalled, it is still not complete. Why on earth would they want to destroy it, and how could one man rebuild something that has taken teams of skilled craftsmen years to do?

Jesus is talking in riddles again, it seems, this bizarre comment is swept away by his opponents (until they can use it against him) and the disciples add it to the list of Jesus’ ‘difficult sayings’ that they simply cannot comprehend.

Later though, they will remember it. They will count the days, and do the maths, they will look back on all that took place that Passover and they will realise that Jesus wasn’t speaking of the ornate building, but the true Temple of God. There is only one way we can truly come close to God. The ritual sacrifices that cluttered up the outer courts and prevented Gentiles from being a part of God’s kingdom did nothing to build the kingdom, and certainly didn’t delight or bring joy to God. The only sacrifice that could ever, can ever achieve that is one of love. Jesus’ love on the cross as he laid down his life, ours for God as we seek to worship him and serve others. The Temple through which our worship can reach into the heart of God is Jesus himself, and he will be torn down, and raised three days later. And if the resurrection isn’t enough evidence of that, as Jesus, the true Temple and heart of worship was ‘torn down’ the curtain in the temple which separated God’s people from the holy of holies was also torn.

In the midst of the mind blowing, earth shattering last moments of being a Disciple of Jesus, the 12 found themselves remembering small things, words recited at school and in the synagogue, words that had puzzled them and been put to one side had come to life. As these words unexpectedly flourished, so did their understanding of who Jesus truly is and so their faith deepened.

And so I am challenged this lent to think about what forgotten memories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. What memory verses, what hymns and spiritual poems can shed light on my relationship with Jesus? What will be revealed to me that is new and fresh in the old story of redemption and resurrection and what will bring it to life for me once more?

Something to watch:


Something to do:

Without reading the Gospel passage try to recall all the details of the account of Jesus’ ‘temper tantrum’. If meeting in a group, see what different aspects you each bring to it.

Light a candle, then read John 2:13-22 out loud. What stands out for you now?

Something to think about:

  • Have you ever felt a sense of injustice at the supermarket?
  • What have you done about it?
  • Who was Jesus most angry with: the traders, Religious leaders or those shopping?
  • Why was it necessary to set the animals free?
  • In this passage Jesus is a man of action and few words – what do those words say to you in the light of the resurrection?


  • In the midst of chaos and later, doubt, the disciples were able to take a moment to remember holy words that helped them to see clearly God at work. How can we find moments like this in our hectic lives?
  • Take a moment to ‘remember’ something, write it down somewhere you can be reminded of it.

Something to listen to:

Something to pray (Patrick Woodhouse):

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Soul Food: A St David’s Day Feast for my Husband

My OH has been the brunt of God’s dry (I would say wicked, but…) sense of humour. He is one of those very special people who share a birthday with Christmas. AS if that wasn’t bad enough, despite having no religious inclinations, he married a vicar, meaning that his wife is always far too busy and exhausted to cherish him on his special day, and too boot, he always ends up stressing over the Christmas turkey.

Recently my Spiritual Director suggested that we make a fuss of his saint’s day, and as he claims to be a quarter Welsh, this is what we have done today. With the ‘Beast from the East’ dancing with ‘Storm Emma’ today, the opportunity to break the fast and indulge in warming foods was not to be sniffed at.

The day began with a lie in, thanks to a snow day, and then Bara Pyglyd with butter and jam . Bara means bread, and these ‘pikelets’ are a cross between dough balls and American pancakes. I followed a recipe from a Dairy Cook book, but decided to use the long slow prove method by popping the bowl in the fridge overnight. Not sure how successful this was, as the recipe tells me to use a ladle to spoon the mix into a pan to cook. Our pikelets were definitely more doughy than batter-y, but still tasted great with lashings of butter and jam.


We also tried our hand at Anglesey Cakes. By ‘we’ I mean my mini-me baker and myself. The intention had been to gift them to our Welsh head teacher, instead I delivered some to one of my Welsh nonagenarians when I visited with Home Communion today. 28471431_1685932288143112_3300004954352168264_nAnglesey Cakes are really more of a biscuit – 2 short bread rings sandwiched together with jam and dusted with icing sugar: perfect with a cuppa after an adventure in the snow.


Supper was the true feast though. As it is still lent and we shall be returning to our vegetarian fast tomorrow, I didn’t splash out on a leg of Welsh lamb, lamb chops had to suffice, with a red wine gravy, baked potatoes and veg, followed by Pwdin Mynwy – Monmouth Pudding, very similar to rice pudding but with bread instead of rice. Comforting and delicious and I had to hurry to get a picture before it all disappeared!





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Soul Food: Fasting is Good for You

Guest writer Wendy Atkinson offers the following thoughts on fasting for Lent:


What are we to make of Lent?  The early church took Lent extremely seriously as a time of fasting and spiritual preparation for Easter, over a period reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness.  Over the centuries rigid dietary rules have been relaxed and the church has generally lost the habit of fasting.  So how are we to take it seriously in today’s world?  Does it matter what we give up or whether we take something up?  May I offer four suggestions why there is more to this spiritual discipline than just cutting out the cake and biscuits.

            It deepens my relationship with God

Fasting disturbs our normal routines, pushing us out of our comfort zones.  It invites us to ask ourselves what we really hunger for, when we challenge ourselves to miss a meal in order to spend more time with God.  We might use that time to read the Bible, pray or perhaps read a Christian book.  It doesn’t really matter which, as long as the intention is to be with God in that time.  If we cannot face missing a meal, perhaps we could deliberately eat a smaller meal but then take our time over it, slowing ourselves down, making ourselves aware of each mouthful in an attitude of gratitude for the blessings of the food so easily available to us, prayerfully considering how this food came to us and thankful for the people and processes involved in bringing it to our table.

            It deepens my relationship with my Neighbour.

If we miss a meal we may find ourselves feeling unaccustomed pangs of hunger.  This is an opportunity to experience physically, within our own bodies, a small measure of the everyday experience of our brothers and sisters around the world who have no choice as to whether they fast or not, who, because of poor harvests, regularly experience hunger.  Or we could restrict ourselves to more simple fare in a deliberate attempt to empathise with those who live this way every day.  And maybe we could set aside the money we might have spent on that missing meal or more expensive food to give to the poor.

            It awakens my relationship with Creation.

Fasting from meat, either for the duration of Lent, or for a day a week (Meat Free Mondays for example) is a way of demonstrating our concern for creation.  Animal products have a huge environmental impact.  The world bank estimates that animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction and 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions.  One third of the world’s water and 30% of the world’s area is consumed by livestock production.  One in nine of the world’s population experience regular hunger yet enough grain to feed over a billion people is being fed to livestock annually.  World meat production is about 285 million tons annually.  That could be 80 lbs of meat a year per person but of course it is not distributed evenly.  An average American eats about 270 lbs of meat annually whereas an average person in Bangladesh only 4lbs.  We only have the one planet and it is not sustainable for everyone to eat meat in the same way we do in the West.

            To understand my relationship with Myself

As we think more about food during Lent, whether because we are missing meals and experiencing hunger or because we are trying to change our diet, we will be forced to reflect on whether we waste food, eat or drink excessively, and are willing to share our abundance with others.  We will understand the effects of hunger on our mood, what the temptation to break our fast feels like and how much willpower we have.  We will come to know more of the truth about our deepest self.

So I urge you to consider how you will approach Lent this year and how you can make it a deliberate time to deepen your relationship with God, your neighbour and the world.  And whether you choose to try one of these suggestions or not, I pray it will be a time of blessing for you.



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