Saturday, December 15, 2012



So, I am sitting on the train to go to London when it occurs to me to text a friend who works in London, asking if he has time to meet up for a coffee. He texts me back, saying "I don't really have time, but I am at Lambeth Palace at lunch time for an Advent Eucharist and a reception with the Archbishop afterwards. Do you want me to try to get your name on the list?"

I take a brief glance at my city outfit - jeans and duffel coat, consider whether that's the right attire for the occasion and text back "Yes, please!". How can I say no to meeting Rowan Williams, who I have great respect for?

Sadly, I didn't make it in the end. No free place available (which isn't really surprising, I guess).
So, having narrowly missed the opportunity of meeting the Archbishop, what's a girl to do but take in the sights instead ...

A beautiful restaurant front in Drury Lane

Re-used pram

When we came to London some years ago, our son was about 10 years old. Nothing we saw could impress him! Everything was "like home, only bigger". But Covent Garden DID impress. I mean, what's not to like? ...

The decorations ...

... and the inevitable street artists

Then I walked on towards St Paul's Cathedral. A beautiful building - although I found £15 too much to pay. So I spend a little time in prayer in the small side chapel instead. (You don't get charged for praying, luckily!)

The I headed back through St James' Park ...

 ... and past Buckingham Palace. Seems that Her
... past Buckingham Palace.
Seems that Her Majesty lives right next to a busy road. Location, location, LOCATION, Ma'am!

This is what I really came for. Not the Archbishop or the Queen, the PM or Santa ... but the German Embassy. Surely the place where bureaucracy was invented!

After some serious security procedures (think airport) outside in the street, I got to spend an hour inside before having my passport documents seen to. Enough time to bond with some other German expats, who were equally bemused by the whole thing (10 years is just enough time to forget the previous ordeal!)
Much hilarity, some discussions about the rights or wrongs of crossing the pedestrian crossing at red when there is no traffic about and a few stories which remind us why we all came to the UK in the first place and never left.
(If we laugh too loud, will we be denied our 10-year German passport??)

Obviously, photography is NOT allowed inside the embassy, hence no pictures of my new-found German friends.

Having the passport business finally sorted, it is time to head back towards Leicester Square. On the way I pass Chinatown.

I had a great time in London.
It was fun to avoid the Underground as much as possible and to take to the streets instead. It doesn't seem to take much longer and there is much more to see!

A final message to combat any remaining disappointment about not having met the Archbishop:

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Yesterday our church took part in the local lantern festival, which is a Christmassy but not necessarily religious event.

Here are our lanterns, spelling the word NOEL.The 'O' is in the shape of a Christingle.

 Here are other lanterns, made by other community groups and individuals.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

St Nicolas

Today is the 6th December, the feast of St Nicolas.
When I grew up in Germany, this was the day when we children cleaned our boots really well and left them outside the door ... to find them filled with sweets and nuts in the morning.

Read about celebrating Sankt Nikolaus in Germany here.

Each year on December 6, Germans remember the death of Nicholas of Myra (now the Anatolia region of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly, and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students. 

Find out more about St Nicolas, the Bishop of Myra here on the i-church website.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wes' Advent Reflections

Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent, the time when Christians prepare for the coming of Jesus - remembering the story of his birth, but also being reminded that according to the Bible Jesus will come again.

I am looking forward to the Advent reflections by Wes Magruder, the Methodist pastor from the First Rowlett United Methodist Church in Rowlett in Texas who joined his Muslim friends during and reflected on Ramadan this year.

You can find his first Advent post here.

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry of lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching."
 Isaiah 42:1-4

May we all enjoy the journey!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crab apple jelly

This year I left collecting crab apples for making jelly rather late. They have long fallen and the cold nights and hungry animals are taking their toll.
But I managed to collect 3 lbs - enough for a small batch of crab apple jelly.

What I like about making crab apple jelly, is that not much measuring and weighing is involved and it's not a precise science.

To make crab apple jelly, you will need:
  • a large sauce pan
  • a muslin bag
  • a measuring jug
  • a ladle
  • jam jars
  • sugar
  • lemon juice
and, of course
Here is how:

Wash the crab apples, remove bruises and slice/quarter.

Put the apples into a large sauce pan and just about cover with water.

Bring to the boil and simmer until the apples are soft and pulp. It helps to mash the apples with a potato masher or rolling pin.  
Leave to cool, then ladle the pulpy mixture into a muslin bag and hang over a bowl to let strain over night. Do NOT squeeze the bag, unless you don't mind your jelly cloudy.

Measure the liquid. Add 1 lb of sugar per pint of liquid, add some lemon juice and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes, stirring as you go.

Remove any scum with a spoon as it forms.  

Now you should test if the jelly is ready to set. My husband likes to take the scientific approach and uses the methylated spirit method.
Me, I prefer the 'wrinkle test', by dropping a small amount of jelly onto a chilled plate and leaving it in the fridge for a minute. Then push your finger gently across the plate. If the jelly surface forms wrinkles, the jelly is ready.

If you are using a sugar thermometer, the setting point for jelly is usually between 104 and 106C.
(To be honest, crab apples contain a lot of pectin and I have never had problems getting it to set, as along as you haven't made it too watery)

Remove the saucepan from the heat and ladle the hot and runny jelly into sterilised jars. Use sterile lids or cellophane covers to cover your jars.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

We shall remember them

Today is Remembrance Sunday and as every year a time for serious soul-searching for me.

I am forced to consider the stark truth of war and conflict, our (and my) part in it and what should be done about it.

I wear the poppy in remembrance of those who have died in wars across the ages, as well as to support the Royal British Legion, the charity supports serving members of the Armed Forces, ex-Service men and women (veterans), their families and dependants all year-round.

However, I fear the patriotism which so easily slips into this time of year. There seems a fine line between honouring those who have died in service to humanity and glorifying their terrible and untimely deaths.

Then of course  there are the questions and doubts about how right it is to be involved in conflict and war. Is there such a things as a Just War?
Whilst I am able to look at WWII and feel a sense of certainty that this was a right cause and perhaps as just as war as  I can think of, and even feel deep gratitude to those who fought against Nazi Germany, with virtually all conflict since then I cannot muster the same kind of feelings ...

Then there is the knowledge that not only soldiers die in modern wars, but countless innocent civilians too. Who remembers them?

So, as every year I wear the red poppy.
I wear it to remember those young men and women who have given their lives in service to their country and for all mankind.
I wear it as a challenge against all war and conflict and to pose the questions whether it is right to be involved, whether it is a just cause or whether there are other motivations at play.
I wear it to remember ALL who have died in wars and conflict - soldiers and civilians, people from all nations and religions.
I wear it in the hope that one day we will not need to wear red poppies any more ...

Perhaps I should wear a white poppy as well next year??

Sunday, November 4, 2012

There's a wideness in God's mercy

I am often surprised (and shocked) by the judgmental attitudes I come across in those who claim to believe in God. Only in the last week or so have I come across a number of explanations, which attributed the hurricane Sandy to God's punishment on mankind ... for (in no particular order) 1) proposed changes in US law on same sex marriage, 2) the anti-Islam film, which was recently made public and 3) not caring for our environment ...
So take your pick which one you think is most likely - but bear in mind that there might be many, many more of these theories out there ...

What strikes me about these theories is the zeal with which people are assured that God is on 'their side' and fighting for 'their causes'.

So it soothed my heart to sing this hymn in church this morning. "There's a wideness in God's mercy" is a hymn, which was written by Frederick Faber in 1854.

I loved these two verses especially:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind. 
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Here it is sung by the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral, London:

Friday, November 2, 2012

All Souls Day

Today is the day when many Christians remember those loved ones who have died.

It was humbling to take part in the evening service, a quiet and solemn occasion, which gave people the opportunity to remember and grieve in their own way.

Support us, O Lord, all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen, the evening comes,
the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over and our work is done.
Then, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest, and peace at last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(Methodist Worship Book)

For all who grieve for loved ones, may you find peace and rest. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dances with leaves

The picture says it all.
Enjoy the autumn days and the falling leaves!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Desmond Tutu - God is not a Christian

Desmond Tutu -  retired Archbishop of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights campaiger, founder of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and one of my favourite people ever!

Here is an article  in the Huffington Post by Desmond Tutu, which is just too wonderful not to share!

“Peace, prosperity and justice - we can have them all if we work together. There is no 'us' or 'them'. God is not a Christian but neither is S(he) an adherent of any other religion because no religion has monopoly on God. All major religions have love and compassion at their core, they promote tolerance not violence and hate, and most have their own version of the Golden Rule - treat others as you wish to be treated. They all recognise that human happiness ultimately comes from our relationship with each other.

In truth there are no outsiders, no enemies - unless we put them there in our minds. Black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian, - all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognise our interdependence, we become fully human.

Our diversity is beautiful - it would be so terribly boring if we were all the same! Conformity is stoked by fear of not being loved, and an expression of a need to belong. Let's love each other - warts and all. Let's dare to be beautiful in our own truth - and still belong. Unselfish self-assurance, compassion, an inner knowing that our humanity is caught up in one another's, that we are inexorably diminished when others are humiliated, oppressed or treated as if they were of less worth than us - these are some of the inner qualities that will save us as a human race.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Allotment update

This year has been a tough year for gardeners is the UK. We have had an exceptionally cold and wet summer (the wettest in 100 years!) ... and it has shown on our allotment.

Everything has ripened (if it grew at all in the first place!) a month later than last year.

Much of the plot was waterlogged for several weeks.
It is much to my husband's credit that he continued plodding on, despite the set-backs and the bad weather.

Finally, in August, the weather improved.
We even managed a couple of cook-outs, cooking courgettes and sweetcorn freshly picked on the fire pit.

In the end, all turned out well.
We had a bumper harvest of strawberries (the first time that we had enough to make into jam!); the runner beans and French beans did very well, as did the broad beans; although the courgettes were disappointing, the summer squashes have been amazing; the brassicas are looking well and the beetroot (hubby's favourite) are great too.

Overall we have grown fruit and veg, which would have cost us over £600 in the supermarket. So all in all, not a bad return - especially for a poor growing season.

Just one final problem: what to do with all the squashes??

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greenbelt - OuterSpace Eucharist

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend I joined a group of church friends to camp at the Greenbelt festival at the Cheltenham Racecourse. Greenbelt is a Christian arts, faith and justice festival, which has been going for 39 years. This year's theme was Paradise Lost and Found.

I had an amazing time. So much to see and do! Talks on the environment; on ethical economics; on Muslim-Christian interfaith action; on an atheist's perspective of hope ...  much fun and fellowship with old friends and new ... Yoga in the morning; morning prayer with the Franciscan monks; Sunday Communion service with 15,000 fellow believers; sitting in silence with the Quakers; an Anglican charismatic Evensong ... live music; street performers and foraging for tea ...

The most memorable event of all was probably the communion service held by OuterSpace, a group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) Christians, and their family and friends. It is a group which is committed to the Church and to helping everyone find their way in the Church, no matter what their background.

I had decided to go along, because I wanted to stand with my homosexual brothers and sisters. I am aware of the continuing theological discussions and debates about homosexuality - but all that aside I wanted to show my love and support by sharing the bread and wine with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

On the evening before I had talked with another friend and we had pondered how a 'gay communion service' may be different from any other. "Perhaps it is more flamboyant" my friend mused, thereby throwing us both headlong into a fine stereotype which heterosexual people have of homosexual ones ... and I began to expect something like the Gay Pride of eucharists.

On the morning, as I entered the venue and left my muddy wellies at the door (did I mention it was a very muddy weekend??), I looked around the hundred or so people sitting on the floor. Not a stiletto or a false eyelash in sight!
What I saw was a group of ordinary people, and - apart from those who were clearly couples by their body language, how close they sat or how they related to each other - there was no telling as to who was and who wasn't ...

So how then was this service different to other communion services I have been to?

The answer is simply that it was the most gentle and welcoming and healing communion service I have ever been to!
By the words of the service and their tenderness, and by the warmth and encouragement in which they were spoken I understood something about the people who were present.
I understood that amongst the congregation gathered in this special service, there were people who had never told anybody in their own church about their sexual orientation for fear of repercussions; there were people who had left their church (or perhaps even their faith) because of the treatment they had received; there were people for whom this OuterSpace service once a year is the only time they can be truly themselves, without fear and worry ...
I understood something about the fragility and vulnerability of being a homosexual in a Christian church ...
And it filled me with great sorrow and sadness.

For me too, this Greenbelt weekend was something I will really cherish. For reasons which do not relate to my sexual orientation, this was a time of great freedom and liberty. The freedom not to have to curb my spiritual desires and appetite, to go out and try, taste and experience God's presence in abundance!
It was a time to spread my spiritual wings and to SOAR!

So my heart went out to my LGBT brothers and sisters. Nobody should have to hide who they truly are, or even have to pretend to be somebody else!

If in our churches there are people who have never felt able to show who they really are, people who sit in our pews and pretend to be somebody else, then we are failing as a church! Whether on account of sexuality or different ethnic, social or racial backgrounds, we should invite and empower people to be themselves and to bring who they are into the church community.

Instead of expecting people to 'become like us' before we welcome them into our community, we should say "You are different from me. Tell me about that. What can I/we do to make you feel welcome here?"

Let me end by sharing the prayer of the confession of sins, which was used in the OuterSpace service, and which really speaks for itself:

You made us to be one family,
yet we have divided humanity,
Lord, have mercy.

You were born a Jew to reconcile all people, 
yet we have brought disharmony amongst races.
Christ, have mercy.

You rejoice in our differences,
yet we make them a cause of bad feeling.
Lord, have mercy.

Thank you, OuterSpace, for a wonderful service.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Methodist pastor follows Ramadan fast

Before I leave Ramadan and Eid behind, here is a blog I have been following for most of Ramadan.
The wisdoms and reflections of Methodist pastor Wes Magrunder whilst joining his Muslim friends and neighbours through Ramadan.

It has certainly been an inspiration and encouragement to read. Thank you, pastor Wes!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eid Mubarak from me and the Archbishop!

Rowan Williams is the Archbishop in the Church of England and a man I greatly admire.
Here is his Eid Message for this year.

May I join him in wishing all my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak!

To Muslim friends and fellow workers on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr 2012

It is a joy once again at Eid al-Fitr to send this message of warm good wishes to Muslim colleagues and communities, and especially to those friends and colleagues with whom Christians have enjoyed working together over the past year. During the long summer days this year the month of fasting has been particularly demanding. I trust that it has been a time of rich blessing, and that Eid will also be a time of joy and sharing.

As many of you will know, these are the last Eid greetings that I will be sending to you before I leave the position of Archbishop of Canterbury to take up a new role at the University of Cambridge. It was a moving experience recently to meet with members of the Christian Muslim Forum and to say a formal goodbye to this organisation which has done so much since its beginning in 2006 to foster deep relationships between our communities.

As I look back over the last ten years, it is clear that our relationship as Christians and Muslims has grown and deepened. It has not been an easy time, and there are huge challenges that we still face together. Nevertheless, we have learned how to quarry together the resources we have of a vision of human beings honoured before God. The word honour, I believe, is one we should learn to use more freely, and even extravagantly, when we talk about our human world. We honour human beings because God in his creation and in his dealings with human beings honours them.

In practical terms this honouring has meant that Muslims and Christians have been working as never before in international development to serve the world’s poorest people, and I want to recognise the huge amount of financial giving that the Muslim community pours out during Ramadan especially. It has also meant at a local level that Muslims have shared with Christians and others during Ramadan in service to their communities through the ‘A Year of Service’ initiative, in the ‘Near Neighbours’ programme and in many other ways.

I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had in these last nine or ten years of growing into a fuller knowledge of our relationship as Christians and Muslims. I have been privileged to be welcomed to a number of great Muslim contexts and institutions around the world and have found myself stretched and challenged. I have found it a great gift to be a small part in the mutual discovery and intensifying of relations here in the UK, and I am aware that we are modelling something here that is creative, fresh, honest and deeply hopeful. I pray and trust that the years ahead will see a deepening of these bonds and an even stronger witness to the whole world of real possibilities, of friendship and understanding and simple delight in our neighbours.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ramadan charity

Having spent the last month fasting with my Muslim friends, I have given some thought to which charity to use this Ramadan.

I wanted a charity which gives to people regardless of their religious affiliation. It is so important to care for our fellow human beings without letting enter into our heads any hearts any inkling of whether they are 'believing the right thing' or 'more or less worthy' of my giving than anybody else.

I am giving because I can. Because I am blessed. Because I want my gift to bless others in turn.

Spending all day without food and drink certainly acts as a reminder of what it is like to be really hungry.
Whilst eating the meal before the fast (Suhoor) and the meal which breaks the fast (Iftar) I often thought about those people in the world who do not ever get to eat enough to stem the hunger and fill their bellies, who are constantly and permanently hungry!

So it only seems right to choose a charity which feeds the hungry in the world.

So I chose the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), which encompasses charities such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and Islamic Relief and which provides relief across the world.

As I am writing this, a worsening food crisis is developing in the Sahel region of West Africa. There are more than 18 million people under threat in arid areas of Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso. Erratic rainfall has contributed to a lack of grazing for animals and below average harvests in some areas. This in turn has resulted in unseasonably high market prices for grain, putting staple foods increasingly out of reach for many people.

Be blessed!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Without the children

This week my husband and I did something we have not done in a very long time, in 18 years to be precise. We went away over-night, just the two of us!  Now, our children are not little anymore - 15 and 18. And yet it seemed a big step to leave them alone at home for a couple of days

We had decided to try what we used to do before we had children: a long bike ride, followed by a night's camping in our little two-person-tent. Now, we are not twenty any more ... but that's no reason not to try!
So we packed our gear, checked our bikes, instructed our children, asked the neighbours to keep an eye, and off we went!

Strangely, I also wondered what it would be like, spending so much time alone with my husband. Would we be bored with each other? Or would we spend the time arguing?
We did neither!
It was wonderful to spend time together, cycling quietly, struggling and supporting each other up those unexpected hills, setting up camp together and sleeping (slightly uncomfortably) in that tiny tent.

All too soon our time was over and we headed back home.
All was well at home. (I think the children quite enjoyed their parent-free time too!)
Will we do it again? You bet!!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Living water

"Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

(John 4:14)

Water Aid

Have you ever gone without drinking all day?
If you do, a handful a clean, fresh water becomes the most amazing blessing!

Support Water Aid to share this blessing with others who are less fortunate.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dawn walk

Yesterday I woke up early, and - having the day off - I decided to head out with my camera to greet the sun.

I set off at 4.30 am and allow myself a 30 minute walk to the nearby fields near the Manor Farm (now turned into offices), which are in a slightly raised position and overlook a wide stretch of the horizon.

I passed the old farm building and passed this beautiful tree, set darkly against the brightening sky.

I was struck by the coolness of the morning air and the stillness (apart from the first birds stirring). A strange in-between world, and I felt a strange peace and joy to be there to experience it ...

I finally founds spot from where I would be able to see the sun rising. The sky was changing and it became clearer where the sun would appear.

Then gradually the sky became lighter and the red along the horizon brightened.

And then - just when I thought time had stood still - in a breath-taking moment the sun appeared over the horizon!
I was amazed how special the moment was and how moved I felt to witness it.
The most ordinary event (having happened every day since the beginning of time) had become the most extraordinary one!

Suddenly I understood when for millenia humans have been drawn to and fascinated by the sun. Our universal source of light and warmth and life.

Within minutes of the sun rising, the bumblebees were busy collecting the nectar from the lavender flowers.

On the way back I enjoyed the sun appearing over my home town. Still everything quiet and sleepy and hardly anybody around - only a few paper boys ...

... and the neighbour's cat squinting into the morning sun.