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"365 Photos"

It is now just over 3 years since my 365 project turned into more of a “100” project, and I’ve been looking back over some of the photos I’ve taken, and reflecting on the fact that I actually really miss doing it.

If you needed any further persuasion as to why it’s a good undertaking, this is what I got out of doing it, and what I miss about not doing it.

1) It made me look at the world.
And I mean really look. Since stopping taking a photograph everyday, I’ve drifted back into a sort of haze again as I walk around, with my mind on other things (currently intractable French philosophers!!) While I was 365ing I was attentive to everything going on around me, in case a flower, or a person, or a stone, or a cloud presented itself for that day. I suppose it’s a bit like mindfulness, being fully present. I’d go so far as to say it made me appreciate creation, and hence become more aware of God all around us, all the time. It made me “wonderous”, if you’ll forgive the grammer.

2) It challenged my creativity.
One of the things that surprised me is that the 365 wasn’t actually that hard, in terms of finding subjects. There was no day when I didn’t have a photo for that day – except for the once or twice when I’d had such a busy day that I’d plain forgotten. That said, because I’d decided early on that taking the “same” pohoto twice was just boring, I did sometimes have to be quite creative and inventive, and the 365 encouraged this. It made me a bit more intentional about photography projects as well, like the water drop (did I mention that I won a prize for that? Oh, I did already – ok). It also pushed me to try about projects from photo magazines, and recreate others’ shots that I really liked – not to mention Danbo!!.

3) It meant I always had my camera with me.
In the age of smart phones this is perhaps a lesser consideration, but sometimes there is a one-off moment in time begging to be captured. Like if a butterfly flies into the office. Having your camera ready and primed at least promotes the possibility of the moment being captured. For me personally there is a quality and composition element to this – I love my smartphone, and the camera’s pretty good (and I use some pictures from it sometimes for my not-365), but it’s not the same as my real camera.

4) It provides an life record.
This one actually surprised me a little, and it’s only in looking back over the last five-and-a-half years’ of photos that I’ve realised that all of life’s ups and downs are recorded there. Whether that’s mundane or life-changing. The ripening of the blackberries in the garden and harvesting of photos are alongside my Mum passing away and me starting ordination training. In retrospect this is obvious I guess – after all you’d expect to take a photo of what is distinctive or foremost in your mind for that day. But it still hadn’t really struck me until I was looking back over the whole set a few weeks ago.

5) You really get to know your camera.
There is no substitute for experience and practice, and by the end of my first 365 I knew my old camera inside out and upside down. I knew how it responded to different lighting conditions, what the tricks were for focussing. I knew what different f-stops looked like, and what shutter speeds were in danger of blur. I knew how far I could push the ISO, and which lens were good for different things. In fact, it’s now not unusual for me to operate the camera in ‘M’ mode, particular if I’m using flash. Now obviously the above applies to a (D)SLR camera in particular – but even cameras on smartphones have their quirks, and I’m often still frustrated with the result of a photo on my phone, without understanding why it’s come out that way. It was just the same with my DSLR at first – a 365 soon fixes this!!

6) My photography got better.
This is, of course, entirely subjective. But I look back over some of my photos, and think “Wow – that’s actually a really good photo” (even occasionally prize winning. Did I mention that?) Now I wouldn’t dream of saying that every photo I took in 2015 is better than any I took in 2012, and I certainly don’t think that every photo I take is “good”, by any objective standard. But what has changed is the number of photos “behind” each one. So when I started, I would take dozens, if not hundreds, of photos to get one I was happy with. Now I take maybe 3 or 4 – I still sometimes need a couple to get happy with the exposure, and then a couple of different composition options. And actually, even though I do take 3 or 4, it’s often the first one which I end up choosing as being the best.

7) It was a communal activity.
When I was doing it for “real”, on 365project.org, one of the highlights was the community element. It’s amazing to join in this activity with others’ doing the same time. They give you ideas and encouragement, and you likewise encourage them back. I came very close to making some good friends on that site, as we walked together for the year, and if I was a more gregarious person (and had they not been in the states!) I would have loved to have met them in real life.

In the interest of balance, there were three downsides I can think of.
1) It does take time
In fact, the reason I stopped is because of the time that was needed. It’s not actually the photo-taking time which is the problem, it’s the post-processing. Downloading them off the camera, doing post-processing and watermarking (both of which I’ve now given up on, in the meain), then uploading, tagging, and describing them.

2) People get annoyed with you always taking photos
Especially close family!

3) It can get expensive
It doesn’t have to be expensive by any means, but it so tempting to buy some more equipment to enable you get a shot you’ve seen someone else do, or a danbo, or whatever. Some shots are simply not possible without a tripod, or a flash gun. Some shots are not possible without a fast lens, or a macro lens (or at least extension tubes). This also can end up with a large collection of photography equipment which has to live somewhere. My rationale is that it’s all money well spent – for instance a lens should really last you for a lifteime, unless you choose to upgrade.

Since the 9th May 2011, I have posted 1,305 photos, each attributed to a given day. At the time of writing, 2,034 days have passed since then, which gives me a rate of just over 66%, or in order words I have posted a photo in 2 out of every 3 days for the last 5 years.

"Imperial Shuttle Birthday Cake"
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2016-09-28

Imperial Shuttle Chocolate Cake

Equipment

  • 20cm square baking tin, greased and lined on the bottom
  • Modelling clay
  • Cake board, black fondant icing, silver shimmer powder

Ingredients:

Chocolate Sponge Cake:

  • 350g softened butter
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp cocoa power (optional)

Milk Chocolate Ganache (filling and crumb coat):

  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g good quality chocolate (dark or milk as desired)

White Chocolate Ganache (detailing):

  • 100ml double cream
  • 100g good quality white chocolate

Chocolate Mirror Glaze:

  • 150ml double cream
  • 135g caster sugar
  • 55g cocoa powder
  • 3 gelatine leaves

Tempered Chocolate Wings:

  • 500g good quality chocolate

Method:

First of all, make the sponge cake.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 ° (160° fan).
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until smooth.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined, adding a little flour with the eggs.
  4. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder, and fold into the batter.
  5. Spoon into the prepared tin, and level.
  6. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack, removing the lining paper, then
    turn again onto another (so it’s the right way up again), and leave to cool completely.

When completely cooled, the cake can be carefully cut into the elements of the shuttle, as follows.

  1. Cut the cake in half vertically, to be end up with two 20x10cm blocks (A and B).
  2. Cut A half in half vertically again, to end up with two 10cmx10cm blocks (A1, A2).
  3. Cut A1 of these quarters diagonally from back/top to front/bottom, to create the front part (pilot’s cabin).
  4. A2, and the rest of A1 are spare (yum!)
  5. Cut B in half horizontally, to end up with two half-height 20x10cm blocks (B1 and B2)
  6. B1 forms the lower main body of the shuttle.
  7. Cut B2 in half vertically, to end up with two half-height 10cm x 10cm blocks (B2i and B2ii)
  8. B2i forms the upper main body of the shuttle.
  9. Cut B2ii in about half again vertically, then cut off the front part of it diagonally to make the top of the shuttle, which holds the top fin.

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At this point I froze these 4 elements, because it was going to be a few days before the next stage.

Step 2 is to assemble the shuttle, and crumb coat with chocolate ganache.

  1. Put the dark/milk chocolate and double cream into a pan.
  2. Heat gently until the chocolate melts, stirring all the while.
  3. Remove from the heat, and pour into a bowl.
  4. Whisk until thick and glossy – this is the ganache.
  5. Put the lower main body on a wire rack on a plastic tray (to catch the excess ganache)
  6. Pour over ganache to coat the top and front (long edge)
  7. Put the upper main body on the lower body, and again pour over the ganache to cover the top and front.
  8. Press the pilot’s cabin against the ganache covered front of the shuttle so it sticks.
  9. Put the top of the shuttle on top of upper main body.
  10. Cover the entire shuttle with ganache, ensuring the tops, sides, and back are all completely covered. You can scrape up the excess from the
    tray to cover any awkward parts if you run out.
  11. Put in the fridge to set.

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I saved the excess ganache, and popped it in a piping bag. After a couple of hours, I then piped this to fill up the gap which had opened up between the upper shuttle body and the cabin, and also to pipe two parallel lines of ganache on the very top to held hold up the fin.

Once the ganache has completely set, you can do the mirror glaze.

  1. Put the double cream, caster sugar, cocoa power, and 150ml of water into a pan.
  2. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring all the time.
  3. Bring to the boil, and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  4. Leave to cool for 5 – 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in a bowl of water for 5 minutes.
  6. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, and stir into the glaze, until dissolved.
  7. Leave the glaze to cool to 38°, then pass through a sieve into a jug.
  8. Put the cake on a wire rack on a tray, then pour over the glaze ensuring the whole thing is covered.
  9. Put the cake in the fridge to set completely.

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Now for the wings.

I made these using a DIY chocolate mould, made out of air drying clay.

  1. Roll out a lump of modelling clay to around 3-5mm thickness, forming a 20x30cm rectangle.
  2. Using a sharp pencil, mark out the two wings, and the top fin.
    • Each wing was a cut-off right-angle triangle, with base 60cm, trailing edge 150cm, wingtip 30cm, and the leading edge whatever it needs to be.
    • The fin was a double cut off right angle triangle, with base 80cm, trailing edge 120cm, top 20cm, leading diagonal 120cm, and a short
      ‘backwards’ leading diagonal of about 20cm.
  3. When this was completely dry, use cling-film to fill the inside of the model. I also put clingfilm underneath to help it “cling”.
  4. Temper enough dark or milk chocolate as desired, pour it into the models, and level off with a ruler.
  5. Leave to cool for 30 mins, then put into the fridge to cool.
  6. Carefully remove from the mould.

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Assembly and decoration.

  1. Roll out some black fondant icing to cover the cake board.
  2. Use a brush to swirl on a galaxy using silver glimmer, and dust some stars.
  3. Move the glazed cake onto the cake board.
  4. Make a small amount of white chocolate ganache (or just tempered white chocolate), and with a small nozzle pipe
    on the windscreen, and over details.
  5. With a large nozzle (or cut a larger hole), pipe along the sides of the base to glue the wings on.
  6. Push the top fin into the top of the cake, and pipe along it.

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"Summer Discoveries – Pt II"

The second discovery we made this summer was The Forbidden Corner, up near Middleham.

What an extraordinary place, and well worth a visit.

It’s quite hard to describe in many ways. A common description is “folly” or “maze”, and they seem as good as any. It’s essentially a very large, enclosed garden (in the sense of a walled garden, not in the sense of having a roof), which is organised internally as a complex maze with several distinct areas, and at least two substantial underground sections. (I never quite managed to establish in my mind whether all the parts of the underground section meet up!!)

The maze is probably the most helpful description, as you can mostly only see a few tens of feet ahead or less (due to trees, hedges, walls, gates, etc), although there are some wider open courtyards / gardens. There are always clear paths to follow, although again in the way that a normal maze has paths through it. There are almost no dead-ends, except for in the proper hedge maze (where you expect to find them), but paths often loop round and branch, and take you back to where you started.

It is a fantastically confusing and inviting place, and after about an hour and a half of walking around, thinking we’d probably seen most of it (although a bit confused about all the warnings of the underground bit), we took a turn we hadn’t noticed before, and came across the other half of the garden, including all the underground tunnels! My advice is not to try and get a specific place, but to wander and take paths that look interesting, and try to remember paths you haven’t taken, so that if (when) you end up in the same place again, you can try a different way. Our boys were desperate to find the stepping stones, and we must have spent an hour trying to get to them. We kept seeing them, but couldn’t get there!!!! Our efforts covered almost the whole garden (which was nice), but it was only when we more or less gave up that we stumbled across the entrance.

It is by no stretch the imagination a safe place. There are long drops, narrow stone staircases, open water, rocks which stick out, etc. The regular signs telling parents to watch children are well advised, and I would hesitate to take my younger son with his school friends (at least, not on my own), as there would be every chance they would run off and come a cropper. I don’t say this as a negative criticism at all, on the contrary it’s refreshing to have somewhere with a bit of bite, which hasn’t been health-and-safety-ed to death. I suppose, upon reflection, that it’s a similar level of hazard to Fountains Abbey, or Brimham Rocks (“if not duffers won’t drown”), but it isprobably the least “tamed” of any of the places we’ve visited recently, which was refreshing.

It’s worth a quick word about the underground bits. They are very dark, low, and narrow – essentially single file and one-way. There are stark warnings for people with anxiety or claustrophobia, and these are well placed. They are like a maze, in as much as there are junctions, but not really any dead-ends (you just end up somewhere else). In fact, it’s kind of one-way tunnels from entrances (or which there are a few) to exits (of which there are a few), which join up with each other from time to time. The one-way aspect needs to be borne in mind, as when it’s as busy as when we were there then it is very difficult to backtrack. The one-way-ness isn’t enforced as such, but strongly encouraged by doors which can only be opened from one side, plus of course the fact that the tunnels are only really big enough single-file. You don’t need to go into the tunnels, and would still enjoy the garden. The first bit of tunnel we found wasn’t part of the main bit – it was a single downhill tube, which got narrower and narrower, and ended with a very small aperture. The boys could fit through fine, but we had to remove our backpacks and squeeze through sideways on our hands and knees. Probably best avoided by adults.

We also had a certain ambivalence about it spiritually. The underground sections are all “halloweeny”, and trying to create a scary atmosphere. There’s pictures of snakes, and the walls resemble bones, and there’s skeletons in closest, and so on. At one point a statue of a centurian (I think) is whispering an incantation, which as far as I could tell was just Latin, but clearly intended to sound like a magic. Like halloween, the feel is intentionally dark magic and evil. There’s also a “mausoleum” elsewhere, which is bit like a ghost train (except you just walk through it). It’s a long, extremely dark, underground tunnel, with sudden noises, and things that light up, and pictures which come to life and start bleeding, and coffins, and zombies and things. I wouldn’t haven taken my 6 year old through it if I’d have known what wass coming, but he doesn’t appear to come to any harm. More humourously, three older teenage girls went in just ahead of us, and 5 seconds later they came running out screaming. They did go back in again, and we decided to gave them a few minutes headstart!

On balance, I think it probably comes down (just about) on the side of the intention being “harmless fun”, rather than anything more sinister – for instance other “fairytale” imagery is freely mixed in (dragons, giants). Never-the-less, in principle I am not comfortable with glorfying evil and darkness, and I think it was a shame Forbidden Corner has chosen that route.

All of that said, I would visit again. It’s a magical place (in a good way), especially for children, with wonder and discovery around every corner, literally.

Final point in closing – there are several water “traps”, where the unwary get sprayed with water, in some cases substantially so. It’s a good idea to take a change of clothes for children, as they have ample opportunity to get soaked. My top tip is to check the ground – if it’s wet, then watch out!

"Summer Discoveries – pt 1"

We made a couple of discoveries this summer of good places to visit, both on the recommendation of friends.

The first is Redcar beach, which was a great place to visit. At only just over an hour from Harrogate, it is probably the closest beach to us in terms of travel time, and it’s pretty much motorway or dual carriageway the whole way.

The beach is enormous, especially at low tide, and – at least when we were there – largely empty. I did one of those fancy panaroma things on my phone, which gives the idea of just how spacious it is. Do click through and zoom in for the full spendour.

Redcar Beach

Admittedly, this particular spot was probably 20 to 30 minutes walk along the beach from Redcar itself, and I’m not sure if there was anywhere closer to park. On the other hand, even when we were on the bit of beach much closer to the town there were only maybe 2 or 3 other groups anywhere near us. There is a stretch of beach with a lifeguard and designated swimming, which I guess may have been a bit busier, but as we were only paddling we opted to explore along the beach a bit. It also wasn’t the hottest of days, and a Friday, but it is such an enormous beach, it’s hard to imagine that 5 minutes walk wouldn’t get you somewhere secluded.

It wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking – it’s quite an industrial area, and there’s a substantial wind farm just off the beach to the north. The main sea-front itself is everything you either love or hate about the British seaside, with amusement arcades, chippies, ice-creams, …

Also worth a look is the Redcar Beacon – a “vertical pier” on the seafront, that’s free entry to climb up, with a viewing platform on the top (and also the home to Zetland FM, it would seem, so if radio nerdery is your thing – and if it isn’t then it should be, let’s face it – you can while the hours away watching the presenting doing his or her thing through the glass-walled studio halfway up the tower).

You want to see the view from the top? Oh, go on then…

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The council website, while a little obtuse, rewards careful investigation with lots of information about parking, tide times, etc. Long stay parking is three pounds for the day, and the carparks are all only a short walk from the beach.

If we’re talking about beaches, then Sands End (near Whitby) and Robin Hood’s Bay also deserve honourable mentions as good places for a day out.

"LightReaders"


Just a quick shout out to LightReaders (www.lightreaders.com) who sent me a lovely e-mail, asking for permission to use this photo of mine (right) in their advertising this year. They “have presented Christian music with Biblical storytelling to numerous churches and organizations in Ohio for the past twelve years. We present for the Audience of One, only accepting freewill donations, often presenting free of charge, and operate on a shoestring budget.”

Very nice to be asked! They even asked if they had to pay (to which I answered no).

In general, I’m very happy for people to use my photos I put online, provided:

  • They ask first,
  • They don’t make a profit out of my photos (or at least, not without sharing some of it!),
  • They give me a credit somewhere.


So a minor slap on the wrist to Trinity Churches of Shrewsbury for using my Growing Leaders Photo (left) on their course page without asking. There’s no doubt that it’s mine because the large version has my watermark on it (my initials – bottom left in this instance). I’m such a big advocate of CPAS’s Growing Leaders I’m haven’t complained (other than this post, I suppose). Actually I’m secretly chuffed that they wanted to use it. 🙂

I stopped visually watermarking my photos a while ago, as it was adding to much time to the workflow, but I always enjoyed working out how to put it in creatively.

I was also pleased to provide several photos recently for the website and prospectus of what is currently called the Yorkshire Ministry Course (the prospectus can be downloaded from the website) – you can try and guess which are mine if you want! By all acounts vicars are meant to have a hobby, and photography will do me just fine, thank you!

I have now successfully submitted an assignment in PDF format via the Common Awards Moodle, including analysis by TurnItIn!!

I did have to do a few more tweaks, so I’ve updated my Using LaTeX for Common Awards page with the final instructions/template for anyone mad enough to do the same.

While I was at this year’s Easter School in Durham, I have the chance to attend the book launch of a new book, which has several contributions from YMC tutors.

Book Launch

John Wigfield

Line up

Line up 2

The book looks excellent, and is available now in paper and Kindle format from Amazon. Once I’ve read a bit more of it I’ll do a more detailed review.

"Corporate Prayer"

2012-04-21-webPrayer is the lifeblood of the church, and having discussed personal quiet times, it is worth thinking about corporate prayer – or prayer meetings. Sadly these can make the heart sink, at the thought of sitting in a cold, uncomfortable chair for 20 minutes in silence without 3 other people who are looking at their feet! However, there are many models of prayer that enable a group of people to pray in a way that is exciting, relevant, and powerful.

The nicknames of these models are not my own, they are how I have heard them referred to over the years.

I would say that the “ideal” prayer meeting blends together several of these different models, to keep things interesting, and would usually cover a variety of topics (even if there is a single theme for the meeting overall). An hour is a good starter – it sounds like a lot, but the time soon goes. You could run a schedule something like this:

  1. Welcome / Introduction (2 mins)
  2. Opening Worship (2 or 3 songs – 10 mins)
  3. Topic 1 – Introduction and Pray (6 mins)
  4. Topic 2 (6 mins)
  5. Worship Song (5 mins)
  6. Topic 3 (6 mins)
  7. Topic 4 (6 mins)
  8. Prayer Walk (10 mins)
  9. Worship Song (5 mins)
  10. Closing prayer (3 mins)
  11. Lord’s Prayer / Grace / Blessing (1 mins)

Topics can be specific items for your situation (Children’s work, local drug problems, upcoming mission event), bigger political issues (upcoming election, gay marriage), or global events/situations (e.g. Syria, persecuted Christians). It is good to have a mix of the global and local to help us remember we are part of a bigger body of believers.

I find that is always good to pray “for” something, rather than “against” it – so pray for peace and reconcilliation, rather than against war. Praying against has its place, particularly in the spiritual warfare domain, but we also want to foster an attitude of love and respect to those who are also made in God’s image.

Worship

Worship (by which I specifically mean singing worship songs to God) is a foundational part of prayer. Intercession and worship go very close together. Worship is a form of prayer, and if we are in tune with God’s spirit (which singing helps with), our praying is likely to be closer to his heart. I believe the first part in prayer is to seek God’s heart and agenda. I’m not sure how you can start interceding without first spending time focussing on and adoring God, although of course this doesn’t have to involve music – I just find it particularly helpful.

It is also worth mentioning that most of the songs we sing in church are extremely scriptural – in many cases entire passages set to music. The Word of God is an integral part of prayer, and singing it (or saying it, or reading it) can only be a good thing.

YWAM

Best suited to a larger group of people, the principle is to split into two halves – one half of the room pray out loud together for a specific issue, the other half worship, usually to an up-tempo and “spiritual warfare” type song (“There’s a burning in my heart”, “We want to see Jesus lifted high”, “Lord you are calling (let your kingdom come)”.

After a couple of verses, the two halves swap, and the half that was singing start praying out loud, and vice versa. It helps if each half has a “leader” they are following, so they know if they should be singing or praying! This can just be someone at the front, facing everyone else, or the meeting leader can always pray and physically change sides.

As with all corporate prayer, there should be guidance from the leader as to what the topic of prayer is. To some extent, if you are all going to pray for different things you may as well be praying alone, and we know from the bible there is power in Christians standing together and agreeing with one another. It is also helpful if the topic is fairly specific, so everyone knows what they are praying for.

Also out loud means out LOUD – while not necessarily shouting, it is awesome when everyone prayers in a raised voice. Of course it depends on the topic, and quiet speaking may be more appropriate, but generally the louder the better.

There are two particularly good things about this model – Firstly, and this is a practical reason, it’s great for people who may not be very comfortable praying out loud. With half the room (and the band) belting out a song, no-one (except God) can hear what you’re saying! Secondly, the music really helps to keep things moving – you know you’ve only got a minute or two to pray for the given topic then you really get on with it, and don’t have to stress about running out of things to pray.

A variation on this model is to intersperse singing and praying, so every sings (perhaps the chorus), and then everyone prays out loud (perhaps while the band plays through a verse).

Korean

Similar to the above, except this time everyone is just praying out loud together. Again this is better suited to a larger group, otherwise it’s easy to get a bit self-concious. That said, to be honest by the time there’s 5 or 6 of you, and everyone’s talking loudly, it becomes a blur and you can’t tell what anyone else is praying.

You probably only want a 5 minute slot maximum for this per topic, probably with some singing or silence thrown in between topics.

If you believe that the gift of tongues is still a gift for today (and I do), people who exercise this gift may find it easier to pour out their heart to God using words from their spirit rather than from their mind.

Silent Prayer

There is a strange power to a large run of people joining together in absolute silence to pray in their hearts, together. This model is best suited to repentence or sorrowful/awful situations, when words aren’t enough.

Prayer Walking

Some people find it really helpful to actually do something physical while praying. Getting up and walking about is a great way of keeping focussed and awake, and if you are praying for a particular neighbourhood, what better way then to so do walking around it?

This can either be inside your building (if it’s big enough) – either just wander around (e.g. praying for the activities that happen in each space, or groups that meet there), or have stations up with items, pictures, news clippings, stations of the cross, etc.

Prayer Tree/Stones/…

As a variation on the above, it can also be helpful to have some sort of craft activity associated with the prayer.

If you get hold of a small branch (that looks a bit like a tree), and “plant” it in a pot so it’s upright, then prayers can be written on “leaves” (leaf shapes cut out of paper), and attached to the branches of the tree. Alternatives are post-it notes on a board, ribbons tied a large cross, stones built into a cairn. The imagary is being used to paint a picture of how our individual prayers join together into a corporate whole, as well as providing an way to pray for those who like to do something a bit more tangible. Holy Communion is not a million miles away from this sor of prayer activity!

Another variation is a confessional exercise, where sins can be written on a piece of paper. The bits of paper are then burnt or shredded, as a sign of God’s forgiveness.

Hotseating

Slightly different form of prayer, and better suited to a small group setting.

Each person takes it in turn to sit (or stand) in the middle, while everyone else gathers around, ideally lays on hands, and prayers over the person in the middle. This often has prophetic elements to it, as people pray out loud and share any words or pictures they may feel are from God. Probably 5 minutes a person is plenty.

It’s worth considering having someone as a “scribe” too, to jot down the encourages and words each person receives, for their individual journals.

Football

Good for a youth group this one. The group sits in a circle, and the leader has a football (or cushion, or tennis ball, or …). The leader then throws the ball to a member of the group, who then prays a short prayer out loud, before throwing the ball on to someone else in the group.

If further guidance is needed, the “prayer on receipt” could be for

  • An issue the recipient is facing
  • General prayer for the sender
  • General prayer for the next recipient
  • A pre-determined topic

Psalms

The psalms are an amazing collection of prayers, adoration, lament, confession, repentence, and worship – and they lend themselves very well to being spoken (as you’d expect).

In particular, they can be spoken corporately as an antiphon. For example, one half of the group could say the odd verses, and the other the even. Or if there’s a natural response, like in Psalm 136, the split can be done in this way – maybe changing sides at each stanza. As with YWAM, it helps to have a designated “leader” for each half to follow.

The splits could be demographic too – so male/female, or young/old.

Out of the hat

Another smaller group one – everyone writes a prayer request on a slip of paper (anonymously or otherwise), and puts it in a “hat”. Each person then draws a slip out of that hat, and prays for that issue for a couple of minutes. Then the slips can back in, and everyone takes another.

The slips could also be pre-determined topics, or areas of ministry, or specific people, or even streets in the parish.

Finally…

The usual rules for prayer meetings apply – start on time and finish on time. Allow people to stay and pray/worship, but make it clear the meeting is over and everyone is free to go. It is always better to leave people wanting more – and however much they enjoyed it, if it over-runs then next time they will be more reticent about coming (“I really ebjoyed it, but it was a late night”).

Also try and end it well – saying the Lord’s Prayer together, or the Grace, or having a blessing, or even the Peace all bring the meeting to a natural conclusion.

"Quiet Times"

2013-09-08 If you attended a Christian Union (or equivalent) as a schoolchild or student, you will already be familiar with the concept – if not always the practice – of “Quiet Times”.

What is it?

For those who aren’t familiar, the “Quiet Time” is a (ideally) daily exercise of taking some time out, and spending it intentionally with God. It usually involves elements such as worship, bible reading, prayer, journalling, meditation, and so on. Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer (or compline) are very structured way of doing this, required of all Church of England clergy as a part of their Daily Office. Compline is a particularly gentle way to end the day.

Less structured approaches include sitting in the study with a bible and a notebook and a cup of coffee, perhaps with a worship CD.

How to do it

It’s very simple – all you need is a bible (and sometimes not even that), and a little bit of quiet.

A really good tip is to have a bit of paper and a pen, to jot down those really important (but oh so distracting) thoughts that do pop into your head. “Ooo – I must remember to put butter on the shopping list” – fine, write down “butter” on your bit of paper, and then forget about until after your quiet time.

So, for a 10 minute “unstructured” quiet time, you could try the following:

  • 1 minute in quiet settling down and clearing your mind. You could also use a worship song here.
  • 2 minutes reading a short passage. A gospel or psalm chunks are good choices.
  • 1 minute thinking about it – perhaps asking God if he wants to say anything, or just “being”
  • 3 minutes praying to God. A good model is ACTS:
    • A – Adoration. “God you’re great”
    • C – Confession. “God, I did this, and I’m sorry. please forgive me.”
    • T – Thanksgiving. “Thank you that I got on ok with a difficult colleague today”
    • S – Supplication. “Please help the situation in Syria”
  • 2 minutes writing down in your Journal anything that struck you about the passage, or particular prayers you prayed, or actions you need to take.
  • 1 minute saying a short prayer of thanks, and ending.

Obviously any of these elements can be extended. You may be able to spend 10 or 15 minutes in worship if you have a CD that you particularly like. Or if you are halfway up a mountain you may spend much longer in the “being” phase, enjoying God’s wonderful creation.

The Daily Office liturgies mentioned above are a far formal setting (although can be done in 10 or 15 minutes), and broadly have this structure:

  • Preparation
  • Word of God (set readings from Psalms, OT and NT)
  • Prayers (including set collect)
  • Conclusion

The advantage is that all the work is done for you, and the lectionary (set readings) cover the whole bible over time.

In between these two approaches are “daily devotionals”. These are typically booklets lasting between a month and a quarter that have a usually have a short reading, a reflection/commentary, and a prayer every day (usually dated, e.g. “1st March 2013”). There are also masses and masses of these (e.g. at Eden Christian bookshop), and you are more or less gauranteed to find a flavour that suits your palate. I can particularly recommend Topz for 7-11 year olds.

Finally, you might like to consider setting 12 months aside to read the Bible in a year. My Bible in a year has readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms every day, and in chronological (as opposed to canonical) order.

If you have a dated resource, you should decide in advance what you will do if you miss a day. You may decide to read every entry (and hence get “behind” – it’s pointless trying to catch up by doing 2 a day), or you may decide to always do “today’s” entry (and hence sometimes miss entries). I would generally recommend the latter, as it gets very disheartening to always be 2 weeks behind!

Why do it?

There is an awful lot of guilt about this practice, especially in evangelical circles, where it can sometimes seem like if you spend less than an hour in your QT each day then you’re somehow a failure. However my experience is that even 5 or 10 minutes makes a tangible difference to my mental state, attitudes, and holiness.

To misquote a famous saying, if I miss one quiet time then I notice, two and my family notices, three and the whole world notices.

If we are seriously about being followers of Jesus, and being transformed into his likeness, then we kind of need to know what he looks like!

"Confession"

“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9

At Spring Harvest 2014 I was struck by something the speaker (Ness Wilson) said in the context of the above verse at the main Bible reading. She said that at her church they use this verse as a sort of general confession, but that there was a danger here that we would never confess specific sins, and therefore not really confess them at all. In her words (as I remember them), you can’t disown something until you’ve first owned it. We also can’t experience the freedom of being forgiven our sins until we have confessed them to God.

Without wanting to get into the whole area of confession, I think the protestant/reformed church has lost something important in its rejection of regular confession to the priest.

The truth is that sin is powerful and addictive. The truth is also that we don’t face up to our sin, look it square in the eye, and “own up”, we can’t truly repent and turn from it, and “disown” it. And it can feel very humiliating and painful to own up to our sins, but I believe this is the what the bible calls us to.

Ness Wilson has a particularly approach that I think sounds good, and obviously works well for her – which is in her daily devotion she writes down in her journal the specific sins she has committed as an act of confession. The times she has failed to be the human being God has made her to be, or fallen short of his image.

For instance (and these are my words):

“I have been short-tempered with the children today”
“I promised a friend I’d ring, but was too tired and busy to fit in the call”

By writing them down, we own up to them, admit to ourselves and God that we have not made the mark, and from that position we can confess them, and truly know the fogiveness and freedom of God’s grace. There’s no justification, or excuses. We just admit to ourselves and to God that we did bad (if you excuse the English!).

The only thing I would add is I would say that on-going, addicive or deep rooted sin needs a firmer hand. If, every day, we write “I looked at pornographic websites again last night” (or whatever), this needs dealing with. This needs confessing to another person who you trust and can meet with regularly – perhaps a church leader – who will hold you to account, suggest external sources of help, and if necessary remove you from public ministry while you seek healing. While we all are sinners, and will continue to be until glory, no Christian should be a slave to sin.

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