Ash Wednesday, Tokyo

Ash Wednesday #4

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Isaiah 58:6-9

St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Another Sunday, another church, but this one is special, because my friend is the vicar. It was a Family Eucharist, and all we needed was a laminated service sheet, (A4, printed on both sides) and this week’s bulletin (B4, folded, printed on both sides) containing the hymns, collects and announcements.

Since it was a family service it wasn’t difficult to follow. I just had to remember to keep an eye on both sheets. Of course, I am kind of biased because it’s my friend’s parish, but I did enjoy the service. Her homily was short and held the children’s interest but had a message for the adults present too.

To receive communion we all stood in a circle around the altar, and children who didn’t receive the bread and wine received a blessing and a sticker, which I thought was a wonderful idea. I saw a little girl later with her sticker proudly stuck on the front of her dress.

After the service there were refreshments at the back of the church. All the children sat together on the floor (apparently there are usually tables and chairs) and the adults stood around and chatted. I asked for a cup of tea and then stood near the table and . . . no one spoke to me. Eventually the person in charge of the tea and coffee said something, but no one else said anything to me at all.

And so I was left wondering again, what is it about Anglicans and welcoming visitors (or not)? Why are we not very good at it? I was there with a member of their vicar’s family, so right there I would think are two points; I must be a visitor (because they don’t know me) but I am with someone they know, so surely it would be easy to start a conversation?

I know we all lead busy lives, and one of the joys of being a member of a congregation is the connections to be made, the friends to catch up with every week (or however often you attend). Of course that shouldn’t be neglected but what about the visitor? Can’t we spare a few minutes to welcome them?

Every week when I am in the UK I attend a different church, but every week I am struck by the same things; I am a visitor and yet no one checks if I know my way round the service, if I am clear about how to receive communion, and no one talks to me unless I lurk near them for a while and they eventually can’t put off speaking to me any longer.

For about three years I was a member of a Lutheran church in Tokyo and I was impressed by how different their approach to visitors was. There was always a welcome, a small joy at someone new joining the worship. It’s not difficult, and surely we can all do it.

We may be greeting someone who has felt called by God to come to church, but is feeling nervous, unsure of what to do, who needs a helping hand through the service, a smile over a cup of coffee. It’s such an opportunity and one that is so often missed.

We may be entertaining angels. We may be welcoming someone to church for the first time, and our greeting, conversation, help might make all the difference in the world.

July 7th 2013

CJN2Last Sunday, I became a Companion of Julian of Norwich. After twenty years as a member of the Friends of Julian, it was a new step, a new commitment.

The Companions started in 2009, as a more committed group within the Friends. I remember receiving the quarterly newsletter and reading about the Companions, how my initial feeling was, how lovely . . . but it’s too much for me. It seemed too much of a stretch. Regretfully, I concluded that it wasn’t for me.

At the beginning of 2011, our previous rector left and we began an interim period at church with a temporary priest. I am sad to say, I feel like I pressed ‘pause’ on my faith in some ways. I don’t mean to suggest I had doubts, if anything I knew very clearly how I felt, but the priest and the services in that two-year period left me feeling isolated, out-of-sync with the church. A year ago, that priest left, and we had another interim priest, this one only for a few months, but I started to feel better; she was someone I felt comfortable with, I enjoyed her sermons, and started to feel like I could feel at home again at church. Autumn brought two candidates to visit, and by November our new rector had arrived, and I felt fully home at church. Amazingly, I discovered that he was an oblate in the Order of Julian of Norwich.

As Lent approached, I decided that this year I would spend the year re-reading Julian, but this time I would read her aloud. As I read, I felt a connection with Julian, with her voice, in a way I had never felt before. Something else started to grow, too. I started to feel that I could become a Companion, that the stretch was still a stretch, but not an impossible one.

And so began a process to start to live the rule, to make an application, and finally, last Sunday, to be received as a Companion. I had expected the process to take much longer, and I think in my mind I had imagined that maybe by the end of the year I would know if my application was successful. In the end it all happened so quickly; I first discussed my desire to become a Companion with the rector only three months ago, and now, here I am.

I had also imagined that, if I was received as a Companion, that it would happen at the Julian Shrine, but last Sunday’s short ceremony took place at church in Tokyo. Of course, I’m going to visit Norwich when I’m back in the UK over the summer, but it felt right to have the ceremony at my home church, in the space where I worship every week, in the city where my life is, where my friends, my job and all the other parts of my life are focused.

So I was received as a Companion at the end of Evening Prayer. There were only a few people there, but three dear friends who had prayed with me about this step and who had supported and encouraged me were there. There were no Companions there to take part, but there was our rector, ObJN, my Tokyo part of the wider Julian family. The quote I chose from Julian’s Revelations was this:

“Let us fly to our Lord and we shall be comforted, touch him and we shall be made clean, cling to him and we shall be safe and secure from all manner of peril; for our courteous Lord wants us to be as friendly with him as the heart may conceive or the soul may desire.”
(Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 77)

I am feeling very blessed, and I am feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I have created another page detailing the Companions’ commitment, which you can find if you click on ‘CJN’ at the top of the page. It may seem like a big commitment when you read it; alternatively, you may wonder why I thought it was a stretch. I suppose it depends on the circumstances of your own life and the commitments you have made yourself.

I am feeling very connected, even though all the other Companions are many miles away. To know that I have joined them, I have joined my prayers to theirs, is a wonderful and powerful feeling. I am making a short retreat at All Hallows in Norwich next month and am looking forward to meeting the people there, at the Julian Centre and the Shrine.

I spent two years feeling a little numb, feeling a little cut off from the other people at church. I see now that it was a necessary step to spend time thinking and praying about how I felt and why. In that time, my father died and in Tokyo we lived through the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. It wasn’t easy but having come through it I can say I am glad it all happened. Just like Lent before Easter, I needed a time in my own little wilderness to prepare for the technicolour delight of where I find myself today.

I am a Companion of Julian of Norwich. I am blessed. I am right where I’m supposed to be.

Amen.