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The storyteller

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The old man was the last in a long, proud line of storytellers, the art being passed done from father to son, uncle to nephew, generation after generation after generation. Women too were tellers of stories, though their tradition was different. Their stories of pain and pressure, of hope and happiness, of light and dark were shared behind closed doors, usually in the vicinity of the kitchen, or when they gathered to weave. Story telling lifted the drudgery, and helped the women of old come to life, secrets whispered from the grave, their memories held, shared, treasured.

There is a saying in Marrakech that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.

The old man’s son was too feeble minded to hold the stories in his heart or head. His brother – long gone – had had no sons. There was no one to follow him.

His walk lost some of its former assurance. His steps were less sure. Yet all that changed as he stepped into the cafe. Men, young men, made way for him, and led him to the place of honour, the storyteller’s chair.

Silence fell. The waiters softly threw down their towels. Even the clock seemed to pause for breath.

The storyteller began.

“There was once a young storyteller who had learnt the art of storytelling fro his father, who had learnt it from his father. The young man learned the craft of holding a story I his heart, in his head and in his hand. He relished words, savouring them, and of helping the characters come alive. He sat here -where I sit today – evening after evening a conduit of cautionary tales, of exhilarating adventures, and best of all those Arabian tales from the desert.

Years passed and the young storyteller’s storytelling became so powerful that the listeners could feel the heat of the fire of the desert, experience the terror of the night and were freed to become part of the story, crying softly at the joy of the birth of a lamb and heaving a collective sigh of relief when tragedy was averted.

Then the storyteller reached his twilight years. He had no successor, no son, no nephew to whom he could pass on the tradition”, he continued. “There is a saying in Marrakech that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” And he wept, the crowd with him

There is a saying in Marrakech that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns ” a young voice whispered, “unless the storytellers tales are passed heart to heart to another, unless the storyteller bequeaths the tales to another, his kin, the library burns”. Taking a deep breath the storyteller’s granddaughter stepped forward, and sat at his feet, ready to learn his art.



Sunday, March 30th, 2014

She sat upright, in her specially commissioned armchair, slippered feet resting lightly on the floor. She looked again at the photograph in her hand. Motherhood had not turned out to be what she had expected.

The young woman in the picture, feisty, fashionable and fearlessly independent, was not her daughter, but her granddaughter.  Three generations of women, and God willing a great-granddaughter some day.

She sat alone, surrounded by cards and flowers. Passing on the baton, blessing them both to leave had been hard, when what she longed for most of all was to sit and hold their hands.

Tea time

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Their eyes met across the crowded room, love at first sight. If they had been from another era they probably would not have got married, but their’s was the generation where marriage was of paramount importance, and so they walked down the aisle heads held high.

He moved into her house, and thinking ahead to those days when they would no longer be able to manage the stairs, had a stair lift fitted. He found that it came in jolly handy for taking up a cup of tea to his wife in the mornings.


Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

She plonked herself at the antique table in the sitting room. The bay window really was an  exquisite  sun trap, too tempting to ignore. The former farmhouse remained a beehive of activity. If she chose to she could tune into the hustle and bustle of the working part of the house, the kitchen and beyond. All too soon she’d be drawn back there, allures by the delicious food she’d seen and smelt being prepared earlier, but for now she was holed up in this private sanctuary.

Book laid aside she looked round the room slowly. The dog too was in a sun trap of his own, curled up on the rug before the fire. Only last night there had been a roaring fire -three huge logs piled up, emoting heat that was so comfortable from the far side of the room, but toasting your thighs if you sat any closer. Now, mid morning, the light enabled her to look closer at the paintings, the portraits in particular firing her imagination. Those two girls paddling in the river. Who were they? What had caught their attention On the faraway bank?


On the easel there were two other portraits; a stunning young woman with piercing yet friendly blue eyes. There was something familiar about the face,  perhaps the smile, or the casual way her head was tilted. The look reminded her of her friend, not surprising really, her friend, the artist, had captured her own daughter, in a sublime moment of joy. the event long forgotten. A little like their own school day memories – yet there at the tip of their fingers, waiting to be retrieved at the drop of a casual “do you remember…?” And they did!

the soup

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The soup was bland. Made of the freshest and tastiest vegetables from last season’s harvest it now lacked any flavour and was lacking in oomph.

She searched and found an assortment of spices – a little cumin here, ground red pepper there, and a sprinkling of turmeric the soup slowly began to give off a wonderful aroma- a little more heat a little more stirring, and some bread -straight from the oven -supper was ready and savoured by all.

silver tops

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Chink, the bottles of milk were delivered -early- to the doorstep. Two pints of silver top, fresh from the dairy -waiting for the family to wake up, fresh for breakfast.  Silver top, pasteurized but not homogenized, full fat (but still less luxurious than Jersey milk, reserved for high days and holidays and distinguished by its shiny golden foil cap), waiting for dawn to break. While the children slept on the cream and milk started to separate – cream rising to the surface causing the silver foil to bulge every so slightly.

It was a cold winter morning, slight frost clinging in the air. As dawn broke the city slowly stirred to life. You could hear the feint hum of traffic from the nearby main road, and closer to hand, beds creaking, curtains being opened, and alarms being silenced. Latch firmly turned, the front door tugged open, the old woman, silver hair pulled loosely back into a hodgepodge of a bun, stooped to pick up the milk. ‘Bloomin’ sparrers’ she muttered, as she lifted the bottles, foil broken and cream filched, ‘they always get the cream of the crop!’

voice from the past

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Somehow I came across something I’d written 5-6 years ago
It’s on a blog that isn’t my own… erm …. and I reproduce it in full because well I wrote it and still stand by it.

Fish Out of Water
(Women in Ministry)
by Lorna Koskela

Women in ministry, a youth at an 8 am communion service, Jesus-lovers in a non-God fearing nation; they all have (at least) one thing in common: they feel – and are often treated – like a fish out of water, even if they are – from God’s perspective – in the right place at the right time.

The Bible is full of examples of fish out of water; women like Priscilla and men like Daniel to name but two. They were godly people, who for reasons beyond their control (the situation in Rome, the exile respectively) had to uproot and go live in a strange environment outside of their comfort zone, learn a new language, and take on new customs. Just like any fish out of water – it was not easy – but they survived the ordeal and brought glory to God.

Today in the C21st, women – and men – of God, young and old, are challenged by the environment in which they find themselves.

Behind the now rapidly rusting iron curtain, in Estonia, the most secular country in the EU1, and its neighbouring Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, Christians are learning that being a fish out of water is part of their calling – and this particularly applies to women in ministry.

We all know the early church survived and indeed thrived in times of extreme persecution, and, it seems that even in the era in which we now live, the church does the same today. In the Baltic States there is living proof that God will build His church, and He uses women – and men –who step out in obedience to do it. For 50 long years the occupying Soviet powers kept the doors of the so-called free churches in Latvia and Lithuania locked and barred, while in Estonia the UMC were given less than 24 hours to find a new home when their church premises in Tallinn were taken over by the KGB no less! Today, after having suffered years of Soviet occupation, Latvia is free- but in an impoverished state. It is the country with the lowest per-capita income and highest inflation in the European Union, while as already mentioned Estonia is the most secular country within the EU. Communism has had it toll –both materially and spiritually it seems – and yet God is building up His church in this part of the world like never before. What’s more He’s using women as labourers to equip the saints for ministry. In Latvia today more than 50% of the pastors in the UMC are female, and just last year the UMC in Estonia ordained their first female elder-in-full connection, finally moving them from the no-man’s land (pun intended!) of being ‘merely’ a local pastor.

Being a pastor –whatever the denomination and whatever your gender- is never easy, and rebuilding a church after 50 years of decimation is not a mission for the feint-hearted. Rev Inese Budnika is one of the pastors in Latvia called to do precisely that. One example of how she –and women like her – are trying to bring the Gospel to people of all ages and from all backgrounds is an inclusive worship service to teach people that they can trust the Resurrection. Poignantly it is asked – whose footsteps are you following? Are you following the trail of the disciples, who scattered and broken after Jesus’ death were in hiding or running around in circles unsure of what to do for fear of being crucified too, or are you treading in the footsteps of those of the women whose steps led straight to Jesus, because they were not afraid to accept the truth of the situation? It’s an interesting question!

In these former Warsaw pact nations, where it was taught for so long that religion was only for losers; where, if there are still church buildings today they are often in bad shape and there is little or no money for their maintenance; where the pastor’s salary (even when it can be paid) is not even nearly enough to live on, let alone raise a family on, and for these reasons many pastors/church workers are bi-vocational, holding down another full time job in order to make ends meet, it would not be strange if Christians, particularly those in ministry, were discouraged. But they are not.

God is calling people into the ministry, the Gospel is being spread and the church is growing. EMKTS, the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, otherwise known as the Baltic Mission Center, founded in 1994 “to provide evangelical theological training for church leaders” stands in the heart of Tallinn (the capital of Estonia). Its website states:

“… to date, 60% of our graduates are in full time ministry across the former Soviet world and an additional 30% are actively involved in part time or volunteer work for the cause of Christ! Our graduates serve as pastors, teachers of religion, church planters, evangelists, youth workers, social workers, prison chaplains, military chaplains, Bible translators, etc. God is doing great things! Lives are being changed! The former communist world will never be the same!”2

What is significant is that not only does the seminary in Tallinn recognize that both men and women are future leaders of the church, but it offers a theologically conservative, yet ecumenical education to people from different nations (mostly the Nordic countries and the former Warsaw pact nations) and from several denominational backgrounds. Estonia it seems, may be the most secular nation in Europe, but there is a real sense of one faith, one baptism and one Lord – manifested in one calling: to make disciples and send them (male and female) to the ends of the earth.

Ilse Paukse a candidate for ordination is one such future leader. Alongside her distance learning studies at the seminary in Tallinn, she is working for the Kingdom of God back home in Latvia. She’s already planted a church and is pastoring it part time. For many she might appear to be an enigma, a young woman taking on a role that was traditionally male-only, but if she is a fish out of water, then she’s one who’s learnt to drink deep from the well of living water, and breathe in the spirit of God, and I for one, am convinced that not only is she the right person in the right place at the right time, but that she has been commissioned by God to preach, teach and lead men, women and children in a world that has been turned upside down by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

1 In a recent survey in Tallinn, Estonia only 17% of the population said that they believed in a god (and not necessarily even the God of the Old and New Testaments)

2 last accessed May 2007, figures refer to graduates up until 2005

Lorna Koskela, who currently lives in a nation that is not her own ( Finland), embracing a language and culture that are not her own and loving it. Lorna , who is 47, is a final year student at EMKTS and blogs about her journey with God

so what is (the point of) church?

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Continuing on from previous posts ‘full potential‘ and ‘smörgåsbord

Fellowship with other believers in a variety of contexts was crucial for Wesley, and should be today. It is only when we engage in genuine and meaningful relationships that we grow towards our full potential.

LeClerc & Maddix Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm

A few years ago I was heavily influenced by the work of  many involved in emerging church including Frank Viola. His Re-imagining Church (pub. 2008) remains a seminal work in my thinking. Viola left the ‘institutional church’ because he noted that across the board -irrespective of denominations – he saw

‘very little spiritual transformation in the people who attended these churches’.

I can relate to that!Moreover, any spiritual growth he did see/experience seemed to occur outside of traditional church settings. As a result of this he began meeting with a group of Christians in an organic way.There was no building. There was no pastor. What Viola was testing – by his own admission -was whether there was ‘a viable way of doing church outside the institutional church experience’, and if so what did it look like?

Many of us can relate to that -and indeed this is partly the drive behind fresh expressions (of Church)

As I said Viola’s writing influenced me, and even as late as 2012 (only a year ago!) I underlined that phrase in his book. Much of me still resonates with the question – but I am increasingly finding myself wondering if the question itself is a bit off-key! It’s in part a reaction to the idea of doing church – rather than being church – in the first place.

Viola states ‘A revolution in both the theology and practice of the church is upon us. Countless Christians, including theologians, ministers and scholars, are seeking new ways to renew and reform the church’ and goes on to argue that the church is not an institutional organisation but a spiritual organism. It has life. It breathes. It grows. It shrugs off old dead cells. This idea, to me (now) sits at odds with the idea of doing church. As an organic being I don’t think about breathing (unless in adverse circumstances) I breathe; I don’t think about growing-I grow. But in an environment where breathing is difficult, and growth is stunted – then the question of intentionality becomes of vital importance. Without which the organism dies - and all we are left with is an empty or hollow shell.

I suppose one of  the most difficult questions we grapple with is what is church?
For so many of us it’s a place to go (usually on a Sunday morning), and perhaps something we have chosen to be a member of (though baptism or membership classes).

I find myself wondering what Wesley saw it as in C18th England. He lived and died a good son (of the Anglican Church). He was an ordained priest. Yet he recognised that for so many ordinary church going people, church attendance wasn’t enough, or more accurately there was a disconnect between church attendance and transformed lives.  There was no evidence of the Holy transforming their lives. Wesley didn’t ever advocate curtailing church attendance but rather to those he helped reconnect with God (revival) he emphasised their getting involved in a society.

What then was the difference between that and church? In one sense I think societies were organic church. They weren’t involved in the sacraments or rituals of the church (they continued to happen in the Anglican services) – but they were involved in the Spiritual formation of the people. Much of that was education based – Bible study, prayer, learning theology by singing hymns filled with theological teaching etc, and the bands were the place where the nitty gritty of discipleship was worked out in connection with others. But being part of a regular community of church goers remained a part of that too.
What role does it have in the nurturing and sustaining of that family member I wonder. A lot to think about it seems!

humph …

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Question: What’s keeping you from blogging consistently? What can you do today to get back on track?

get writing …

Go Girl

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Found a lovely tiny book in The Samaritans’ Secondhand shop today – 50p!  Called Go Girl! (Helen Exley). It’s full of lovely, wonderful pictures ‘elfin’style by Caroline Gardner, and fun and inspiring sayings from all kinds of women (and a few men).


I love to wake up and meet the day.
I think that life is not to be wasted or thrown away. (Goldie Hawn)

50p well spent methinks :)