31 May 2020 - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3W82CRuBxyxSkbM7cu5vnC- The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
The past weeks have been laced with expectation and anticipation as we have reached a stage in our Coronavirus journey where things are starting to turn around. As the Government has begun to open up the economy the expectation of a return to ‘normal’ has risen and indeed, even in the Church there has been hopeful expectation of getting back to business as usual. But what exactly does that mean?
Firstly, it’s a little way off. Any formal announcement regarding the Church’s return to usual practice involves us downgrading to level 3 or 2 of the Coronavirus Level chart and the reopening of non-essential services. This looks likely to only become possible around July at the earliest. In anticipation of that we have begun exploring what the implications of that might be for us as a Church and, I guess it will come as no surprise, there are a number of challenges to overcome.
Perhaps the most significant of these is what actually is the most responsible course of action to take? That question is actually being hotly debated around the globe by religious groups of all persuasions with, as you may well imagine, a wide range of answers some of which are just plain unhelpful! We are still in the process of beginning to formulate our response but we do want to enlist your aid in helping to shape our response to how we go about bringing things back to a more familiar shape and pattern.
Words from our Minister:
A friend and colleague of mine in South Africa, Rowan Rogers, put up a post on Facebook in which he made the following comment: ‘We have no idea what we have lost. I think we have forgotten. I have forgotten.’ He goes on in the post to describe a memorial service he took in someone’s home. (I hope I’m not confusing things by referring to a different context – the lockdown in SA has different parameters to ours here in the UK) There were about 12 people gathered and as part of the service they had chosen a hymn to sing. I’ll let Rowan tell it from here: ‘The family had chosen a hymn for us to sing together. What a Friend we have in Jesus. Our accompaniment would be an mp3 played through a computer connected to a small hi-fi set. This was no pipe-organ or worship band with its fancy Yamaha and 32 channel sound desk. It was a rudimentary recording off the internet. The short introduction played, and then this little gathering began to sing. No hesitation. Full voice. We sang: What a Friend! What a Friend. The tears welled up inside me. I understood some of them immediately. This was a heart-breaking moment; the grief in the room was tangible. But then I understood some more. I found the stuff I had forgotten. For two months I haven’t heard the people of God sing. I haven’t stood in the presence of a community and heard us declare, against all rational thought, the impeccable friendship of Jesus. I haven’t been enveloped by the glory of imperfect voices and stuttering music; the worship of God’s gathered faithful people.’
Isolation and social distancing will change things for us. Even as we are considering the small opportunity the relaxing of the lockdown might be affording us, we are becoming aware of the challenges it will contain and the need to do things quite differently. We come to the questions we need to explore together about shaping the next steps of our journey together. In all of that, I trust, we will be able to identify clearly what it is we should not forget and hold fast to that. To identify what it is that will simply cause us to stumble going forward and hold more loosely to that so as we emerge from our current circumstance we may do so with greater clarity and deeper conviction as to what it is God is calling us to be and to do as God’s people in this place.
17 May 2020 - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3UQgdCk8lJb0tfSUINMlFmK The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
We find ourselves in a very strange place. Last Sunday we waited with bated breath to hear from our Prime Minister as to what the way forward might look like. Well, the responses to what he had to say couldn’t have been more divergent! Yet, here we are, at the beginning of a turning point in this circumstance so just where might that leave us?
In much the same place for the most part as the only possible opportunity for change for the Faith community in general looks to be July at the earliest, Stage 3 of the Government’s Plan. Of course, even if the Government were to ‘fling wide the gates’ that does not necessarily mean we’re all going to be flooding back, now does it? In any event, any return to building based activity will be strictly governed by social distancing rules and our ability to provide a safe space for people to gather in.
Words from our Minister:
We might all be in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat!
That’s the caption that, along with this picture (Image Credit: © Barbara Kelly) and a poem by Damian Barr – Seeking Safe Harbour amidst Coronavirus – that went viral on social media this week. Between them they have captured something essential to our journey through this moment in time that I want us to pause and ponder together: How is it that we can be ‘together’ in the midst of this storm?
The point of the poem, so clearly illustrated by the picture, is that we are each experiencing the storm very differently. On the one hand I have had conversations with people who are feeling quite at home in the new, reflective space, this pandemic has provided whilst on the other hand I know of people for whom the isolation is, almost literally, driving them up the wall. There are those for whom the financial impact is minimal whilst others are losing their livelihood. There are those for whom the enforced confinement with their families is opening new vistas of knowing each other and for others there is nothing but fear and dread at what the next word might invoke by way of abuse and injury. For some the enforced isolation is a safe space in which we can stay well and yet others are going out to confront the virus even at risk to themselves and their families. So I might go on. I think you get my drift.
Where is the ‘Together’ in all of this?
Well, coincidentally, – not quite so sure about that! – my daily devotions this week with Richard Rohr have been focussing on community! The titles have been: A Community in Transition; Action and Community; The Foundation of Community; A Community for All and Jesus’ Social Program. Still got two days to go as I write this. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that being forced into isolation and beginning to sit very comfortably with social distancing that we’re talking about community! Not really. You see, the fundamental expression of what humanity is constituted to be is community – in living, loving, relationship. In Tuesday’s reflection Richard quoted Richard of St Victor: ‘For God to be good, God can be one. For God to be loving, God has to be two, because love is always a relationship. But for God to share “excellent joy” and “delight” God has to be three, because supreme happiness is when two persons share their common delight in a third something—together.’ Richard Rohr quoted the example of a couple celebrating the birth of a new baby to illustrate the point.
You see, I think that the real opportunity for us to be together is when we look beyond the bow of our own boat and reach out to each other in the midst of the storm thus making the storm bearable together. I read a BBC news article, yes again, today, about a Mum and her 11-year-old daughter trying to do some essential shopping with Free School Meal vouchers only to be declined at the till. The story evoked such a depth of emotion in me I had to stop and ask myself what was going on. I was angry that a family in our country was forced to depend on these vouchers but I was incredibly saddened, actually I wept, that as they tried to make their purchase, no-one in the queue behind them felt compelled to step up and pay the £45 on their behalf so they could have food for the weekend.
No, I am not denying the incredible examples of just how people are reaching out to ensure that other boats make it to safe harbour. The examples are manifold. All I am saying is that there is work to do and in answer to that call let us, each one, ask God to show us where we can show kindness, dispense grace and strengthen love so that we all know what it means to be together, to be community, in the storm, in our different boats, and find safe harbour.
3 May 2020 - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3WNai6Jsubz_bGPF3Rm702z The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
There was an interesting article on the BBC website today entitled: Do British people still accept the lockdown? by Home Editor Mark Easton. It explored our attitudes to the lockdown and found that: ‘More than 60% would be uncomfortable about going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport, should ministers decide to relax the lockdown, a survey for Ipsos Mori suggested.’
Also, ‘More than 40% would still be reluctant to go shopping or send their children to school and more than 30% would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.’
Interestingly these sentiments have been reflected in some conversations I have been having locally. Most significantly the survey found ‘the country has gone from apprehension at the start through to dejection as the economy shrank and the death toll mounted. People have moved on to frustration in the most recent analysis as restrictions begin to grind and reality dawns as to how long they may last.’
I wonder just where you might find yourself in the midst of all of that? Are you feeling less confident about life now than when all this started? If you are, that’s ok. In fact, I’m not at all surprised. I know I have my moments when I bounce from being outright frustrated and wanting to just tell them to get lost, I’m going out! To being rather depressed and wondering what will be left by the time this is all over.
The disciples had just such a journey in these days after the resurrection and before the Ascension and Pentecost. I find it so encouraging that Peter goes fishing – even after seeing the risen Christ! He tries to go back to ‘normal’! But there isn’t going back, is there? No, not for them and not for us either. So, as we find ourselves in a world turned upside down, let us, like them, learn to trust the One who holds this all in the strong grip of his grace and not to be afraid of the Spirit nudging us as it did them into a whole new way of being.
26 April 2020 - Service, Hymn words. You can also join in with us by clicking on the this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3U5MOuFhC8gLoapxzIn5Ivx The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
As I sit to write this 5th edition of our weekly update letter I am reminded about the difference between a sprint and a marathon! Truth dawns slowly and with it the necessary adjustments to help us reset our sights in order that we might attain the prize that all the sacrifice is in aid of.
These are lessons Abraham learnt, the hard way!
Two and a half years into our journey of relocating to the UK, I was ready to give up. I just couldn’t take any more of the stress and trauma of ministry and trying to find our way into a similar yet completely different context. I decided to quit. I was actually looking for other work when I pulled a book off my shelf that I had bought but not yet read. Mid-Course Correction it was entitled by Gordon MacDonald. That’s got to be about mid-life crisis, I thought, and that has to be what I’m going through I decided.
Well, it wasn’t – not that I wasn’t in the middle of one, mind – it was about Abraham and his journey of faith and somewhat meandering path he took to get where God wanted him to be. You see, despite Abraham’s incredible step of faith in upping sticks and leaving home and heading, literally, only God knew where, he wasn’t inclined to leave it all up to God. Two notable exceptions were a detour into Egypt as a result of a famine and then, of course, there is Ishmael. You’ll find the whole saga in Genesis Chapters 12 through 25 and you’ve got the time so go and have a read.
The nub of it is simply this: If you don’t stay the course you’ll never attain the prize. What God had in mind for Abraham was beyond his ability to fully comprehend but it was only revealed in his keeping going in the same direction, despite the mid-course corrections! I guess we’re kinda stuck in that same place, aren’t we? Is this journey going to prove too ridiculous, too soul sapping or too costly? Are we going to be too obdurate, too easily swayed or lacking in discipline to see it through? Let’s not be discouraged but, rather, let’s learn from Abraham and discover that God is faithful and God will see us through to the other side of this moment. I did and although I’m not anywhere near the end yet. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here now, writing these words for you in the middle of this opportunity to discover God’s ultimate faithfulness – not just to the special one’s of God’s favour – but everyone for we are all special in God’s sight, every last one of us. God will see us through.
Words from our Senior Steward:
Having accepted Gavin’s invitation to write the update during his weeks leave, I’ve been pondering what to say!
Having listened to and partaken in material circulated for our prayers and worship at home, I’ve felt a constant and nagging thread from friends and family about when we return to some sense of ‘normality’, and what they hope that may look like. Certainly, when we entered the period of Lent back on 1st March and thought then about what we might give up for that period, none of us would have contemplated where we might have been only 3 weeks later in the restrictions that we continue to endure for the good of us all. My expectation and those I have spoken to is that life will be different once we come out of all this, a ‘new normal’, where our enforced pause in our personal and church routines will have caused us to stop and reflect on what is important in our lives and to appreciate a changed perspective (both individually and corporately) as a church… a different lens on life.
Whilst being in lockdown is undoubtedly tedious and presents us all with practical challenges as regards shopping, medication and how we care for each other remotely, it will be seen as a defining moment in all our lives for many differing reasons and we will not all be affected in the same way. However, at the heart of it, as Christians, our faith remains and we still have the assurance of Christ’s resurrection, but how we express it all as Church and individually through our APEST actions will, hopefully, be different and more relevant.
A prayer for these times from Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference
We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
wherever you call us.
The expectation as I write this seems to be that the ‘lockdown’ will be extended for a further 3 weeks and this will require us all to dig deeper for longer as we stay at home to protect us all. This will not stint our ability to be a worshipping community that cares for its congregation, rather, it inspires us to do so more creatively!
Easter Sunday - You can also join in with us by clicking on the this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3Vcu4aMa5H-RPPC63kOfMQR The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
Well, here we are in the midst of an Easter weekend with a difference – a huge difference! I guess those who have a memory of celebrating Easter in the midst of the second World War might have some experience of celebrating this vital message of hope in contradictory circumstances but it certainly does test the theory of it in a significant way, doesn’t it?
In a rather convoluted argument in 1 Corinthians 15:12ff, Paul makes the point that, outside of the resurrection, life is a hopeless task and we are a hope-less lot! I like the way Eugene Petersen puts it in The Message: ‘…if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.’ (vs13-14) Smoke and mirrors! Indeed, what is the point of our message if it doesn’t have a point today, especially today!
I believe that point is Hope! Not merely the hope of a brighter future at some distant point on the timeline of life. Not merely even the hope of an eventual eternal future in God’s abiding presence. No, hope for me is something that understands God’s action in the present and recognises that even in these dire circumstances, God is present and inviting us to do just what Jesus did – to trust God that whatever this is, it is not the end. We know Jesus struggled with that. ‘My God, my God – why have you forsaken me!’ is not the cry of someone serenely floating through the moment. No, it is the real cry of someone struggling to see their way through, and perhaps even not being able to see the way clearly at all. Against that is that final statement of faith – ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’
No, this is not a moment for you and me to simply spectate – this is a moment for us to participate in. Where Jesus walked, we walk. In many different ways yet we walk there too. Like him we too can’t see the end from the beginning and like him, we too can only trust that as God raised him from the dead so too, God will raise us, transform us, transform this moment, help us to see just what resurrection looks like in the midst of the challenges and opportunities that confront us here and now.
Is it messy? Indeed, it is! Is it painful? Without a shadow of a doubt! Does it always make sense? Definitely not! But, when we trust God’s love, when we let go of ourselves and lose ourselves in the vastness of God’s life, we will discover with Jesus the hope that resurrection brings. Ask yourself this question: Why do the doctors and nurses on the frontline of this pandemic go day after day into that place of danger and do what they do? I put it to you that it is because they have hope! That’s where resurrection is taking place. My prayer is that it might be a bigger resurrection than we ever dreamt possible.
Words from our Minister:
As we approach the Easter Weekend, we want to invite you to join with us in worship on Good Friday morning at 10am. To that end please find attached our Good Friday service materials prepared for us by Peter Bramhill.
Peter has invited us to use some visual aids – a bowl, towel, large nails and a hammer. If you are unable to procure those items, I have also attached a picture for you to print off and use or simply just display on your screen.
May I also take this opportunity of reminding you of the call to Prayer & Fasting for Good Friday and invite you to commit yourself to making this special day a day of particular prayer for us as a nation and for the world at large as we continue our battle with this pandemic. Let us pray for those who have the heavy responsibility of decision making in this crisis, those who are on the frontline of fighting this disease and each one of us as we need to play our part in overcoming this virus. Especially let us pray for the grace to know what this moment is teaching us in the bigger picture of the ultimate shape of our lives to follow.
As we have heard, the One Good Friday Passion Play has been deferred to next Easter, but you can still join in with the Wintershall Production at 12 noon here: www.wintershall.org.uk/passion-jesus-london Wintershall have prepared some clips from the rehearsals up and down the country from the various centres at which this production was going to be put on. That will be followed by a full rendering of the Passion Play from Trafalgar Square last year. This will be repeated at 3pm.
Words from our Minister:
Week three and counting!
Someone has put up a post on FaceBook suggesting that Mother Nature has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done! I think I like that idea and I think it ties in well with the whole period of Lent and Easter. After all, is not Lent that period when, in particular, the People of God take time to reflect and pray and refocus on God?
Of course, this is about so much more than just giving up chocolate, now, isn’t it? This, I believe, is an opportunity to stop and take stock in a completely different way. We are confronted with something that just doesn’t make sense. What on earth would possess governments to, literally, shut up shop and inflict such devastating harm on an economy? How can that not be worse than the impact a few, well comparatively speaking, sick people and a somewhat disproportionate number of deaths than usual? Yet, there it is. Indeed, it must be otherwise why are we doing it?
Now listen to these words: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But, if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’ Jn 12:24-25
Perhaps, in a way we could perhaps not otherwise have imagined, we are being given an opportunity to stop and reflect, to listen and to follow Jesus in the Way of the Cross. I’m becoming more and more convinced that we have mistakenly taken what Jesus has done on the cross as something done in our stead. Because he has, we don’t have to. Yet, how many times doesn’t Jesus say exactly the opposite? We are invited to take up our cross, to lose our lives, to die with him because, only then, will we truly know the meaning of resurrection.
Resurrection isn’t something that only happens after we physically die. No, resurrection is the invitation to a bigger life now, as well as then. A life that doesn’t seek to dismiss the pain. That doesn’t even try to necessarily explain the pain but is willing to allow itself to be held in the pain and as a result to learn new depths of love, of compassion and of courage to reshape the pain into resurrection.
As we reflect on our coming King may we discover the one who leads us together into that place of life that is distinctly different from the one we may currently be inhabiting.
Words from our Minister:
Well, here we are at the end of our second week into this new experience of being ‘together’ differently.
A South African friend and colleague of mine has introduced me to a quote: We make the road by walking. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from, but I do know Brian McLaren, a Christian author I enjoy, has written a daily devotional by the same title. I find it a comforting and challenging thought – We make the road by walking. It says to me that it is only as we embrace the opportunity in front of us that we discover the growth contained in it for us and can explore the vistas that will open up with each succeeding step along the way. Of course, I am quite certain that the thought that lies behind it is the Jewish concept of ‘Halakhah’ or ‘The Way’, which is of course the name applied to the fledgling church – followers of The Way.
Indeed, as we walk through these days and discover fresh truths and understanding of God and God’s presence and desires and designs for us it is my prayer that each us will especially discover that inner voice that perhaps we have lost touch with as we have become too dependent on the external voice that perhaps too often simply booms from the pulpit. Each of us has the capacity, and indeed the responsibility, to listen for God’s voice in the midst of our lives and learn to trust it and respond to it.
Words from our Minister:
As we continue our journey through these challenging times let me encourage you to hold fast in prayer and devotion so that we might be strengthened in our inner person as Paul says in Ephesians 3:14-19 'My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God'. (MSG)