2 August 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3VqI3Okw39eSYPB_6M4tL7B The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
How long is a piece of string? There’s one to go up there with ‘To be or not to be – that is the question!’ Or, to completely mix it up, ‘Who’d a thought we be sittin’ ‘ere…’ by Monty Python – The Four Yorkshiremen sketch.
Yes, indeed, who would have thought that this would be Update Bulletin number 19 with who knows how many more to come when this all started. We’re certainly not alone in that, you know. ‘How long?’ is a question that echoes through the Psalms, occurring roughly 27 times. In each instance the Psalmist is struggling with some aspect of God’s timing which is obviously not coinciding with theirs!
I recall coming across a story in a book of sermons where someone was trying to explain to a group of Nuns why some people believe the world was created in seven days, literally. They were struggling to get their heads around the idea and one of them said: ‘But what’s the matter with these people? Don’t they understand that God does things slowly?’ I guess we should have take our cue from another Psalm – ‘A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.’ Ps 90:4.
Perhaps, maybe just, ‘How long?’ isn’t the question we ought to be asking. Maybe that question is one that distracts us too much, makes us focus on an unseen, invisible moment at some distant point on the horizon rather than helping to keep us focussed in the here and now.
Perhaps a more relevant question might be: ‘So what now?’
Always there are opportunities. Or, to quote Paul, in Ephesians 5:16, we must ‘…redeem the time,’ or as the NIV has it, ‘…make the most of our opportunities.’ More significantly, at the head of that section he quotes Isaiah 60 in urging us to ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.’ Paul’s urgency is for us to discern the moment and respond accordingly, in grace. Perhaps, rather than seeing the moment as another setback, or regard it as further evidence God has disappeared, why don’t we stop and open our eyes and look for God in the very midst of the moment. Then we can jump on board with what it is that God is doing, with what it is that God is inviting us to participate in with God. Then our focus might be enabled to shift from a frustrated longing for some long awaited solution to a willing engagement with the opportunity right in front of us.
26 July 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning:https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3X7rY0BY9jlUajAJR_gj7cY The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
Today marks a change in our journey with the Coronavirus – we’ve all been told to mask up when heading into various situations in our daily round. Not unexpectedly, opinion has been divided and it has been interesting to observe the conversation, especially as it has unfolded on social media. Of course, thanks to Google, everyone is an expert these days and it is interesting to see how people respond.
Mostly it seems to be about ‘My rights’ or different interpretations of the science of it all. A friend of mine posted the cartoon I’ve included, which I thought spoke quite powerfully into the debate, albeit perhaps a little provocatively!
A couple of weeks back I mentioned our duty of care and connected that with the parable of the Good Samaritan. I wonder if a quick return to that theme might not be helpful in this conversation.
It seems to me, and I definitely include myself in this, when we’re caught up in our rights and the science of it, that we’ve lost sight perhaps of the main thrust of the argument. It’s not actually about me – it’s about the other, or you. Perhaps the most powerful arguments I have heard for wearing a mask all challenge me in the realm of being considerate, of making the practice of thinking about others the primary motivation and isn’t that the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in the parable? You might recall, if you have heard me preach on the parable, that I suggested it turns on one Greek word – sugkurian – a confluence of circumstances ordained by God. In the English translation that word is translated with the word ‘happened’ – a Priest happened to be going… No. He didn’t happen to be going, he was on the road because someone needed his help, he just chose to see it differently. Not easy, I know. Incredibly difficult to do, I often find. But, enormously helpful to the one in need and a sign of grace and love when embraced with reckless abandon!
Have I laid the debate about wearing masks to rest – probably not – but if I have given you pause for thought then there’s still hope!
19 July 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning:https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3WZMOuGnWb6B1BbVQGpojMs The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
Last week I offered a reflection from Richard Rohr in response to the question ‘Where is God?’ in the midst of this pandemic. This week I want to perhaps reflect on it a little more personally.
There are a whole set of Psalms, about 42, almost one third of them, known as Psalms of Lament. Most of them are individual but some are communal. Perhaps the most well know individual one is Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes from the Cross – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Vs1 and Psalm 137 By the rivers of Babylon – the most well-known communal offering.
The thing about these Psalms is they address the issue of God’s seeming abandonment of God’s people, both individually and collectively. In some shape or form, God has not delivered on God’s promises. Somehow, despite everything that has been undertaken on the part of the individual or people, they find themselves utterly abandoned, totally let down, all on their own.
As I read these Psalms it strikes me that here are people who don’t hold back. They’re not afraid to tell God how they are feeling about things. They even accuse God. God has let them down and failed to come to their rescue. We’re struggling with five months in lockdown, imagine what it must have been like to be carted off to a place you never wanted to go to in the first place and then be told you’re going to be there a while – 70 years by no less a person than Jeremiah. Must have really made for a happy lot!
One of the things that strikes me about these Psalms though, is that, despite their chorus of dissent and accusation, they almost always come back to an affirmation that that is not who God is and therefore they will praise God, if not now, then later!
For me that is encapsulated in the Incarnation. Jesus doesn’t so much come to die to save us from our sin. Rather he is God in the flesh come to show us that even when it seems all is lost and the deepest darkness has won, love never dies! Don’t be afraid to tell God how you feel in the moment. Don’t be afraid to voice your fear at the absence of God. God knows. God has been there. God hasn’t simply observed it from a distance for any number of millennia – no, God, in Christ has walked the path and travelled the road and has cried the cry in the very midst of the moment: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’
Do we want to know where God is in the moment? God is there, holding us, waiting with us, weeping with us, agonising with us, breathing resurrection into us just as God did Jesus. And, like Jesus and God’s people of old, God seeks to bring us round full circle to offer praise again, only now it is praise born of the fruit of persistence in the face of adversity and abandonment. Praise that flows from the unshakeable conviction that even when it seems utterly wrong to imagine it, God is never far away. No, God is always near, nearer than we might dare to think or imagine.
So, if you think God isn’t in control or perhaps even out of control, why don’t you take the time to tell God what’s there in the deepest or darkest of your fears. Don’t be afraid of it and don’t move too quickly beyond it. God is there and will meet you in the midst of it – I know because I have found God there myself.
If you want to explore some of these laments you’ll find them here: Community Psalms 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129 or individual Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 28, 31.
The Support Group continues it’s work in preparing for opening up the premises for public worship and community use and we are hopeful of making that happen sooner rather than later. In the meantime we are aware of more and more church members appearing on the church premises and we need to ask if you could please remember that any access to the premises needs to be authorised by Chris Teager, Chair of the Property Mission Team. The reasoning for this is down to track and trace responsibilities and also ensuring that people don’t accidently unnecessarily bump into one another on church premises. It’s all about helping each other stay safe and preventing infection so please do play your part.
12 July 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning:ttps://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3Uxp7P5jie5wJmz0RS5rfJa The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
I was asked this past week about where is God in everything that is happening.
Not a surprising question, actually, and I wonder how many of us are mulling that one over? It is, of course, the perennial question in the face of whatever suffering we may be enduring, great or small, and probably deserves more space than this update allows. However, as I was pondering that question, my weekly devotions with Richard Rohr turned to the theme of Wisdom in Times of Crisis for this week and I felt Tuesday’s contribution was particularly apt so I am including it here for you to ponder.
The Wisdom of Job
Theology does not by itself provide wisdom in crisis. All theology must become a living spirituality to really change us or the world. It’s disappointing that we Christians have emphasized theology, catechism, and religious education much more than prayer and practice. The biblical book of Job is probably one of the greatest books on prayer that has ever been written. It breaks our stereotypes of what it means to communicate with God.
If we view Job’s story as a journey into an ever-deepening encounter with God, we keep the question of suffering from becoming an abstract debate observed at a distance. It is a text that only fully makes sense to those who’ve felt suffering, been up against the wall, at a place where, frankly, God doesn’t make sense anymore and we no longer believe “God has a plan.”
Job loses his livelihood, his savings, his family, and his health. His practical, religious friends appear as self-appointed messengers, to speak what they are sure is God’s answer to Job’s suffering. They offer the glib, pious platitudes of stereotypical clergy. What they do is try to take away the mystery, but they cannot solve the problem. God says you cannot solve the problem of suffering, you can only live the mystery. The only response to God’s faithfulness is to be faithful ourselves.
Most of the things Job says to God in his pain are not what Christians have been trained to say to God. The pretty words are mostly gone; there’s no “swirly talk,” as writer-pastor Molly Baskette calls it, that Christians so love to put in their prayers. Instead, Job dares to confront God, the very thing many of us were trained never to do. In fact, we called it blasphemy.
During Job’s crisis, he yells at God, accuses God of all kinds of things, speaks sarcastically, and almost makes fun of God. “If this is a game you’re playing, then you’re not much of a God! I don’t need you and I don’t want you!” It’s this kind of prayer that creates saints. Yet we can’t pray with that authority unless we know something experientially about God. We can’t pray that way unless we are assured at a deep level of the profound connection between ourselves and God. It takes one who has ventured into that arena where we say angels fear to tread.
Ultimately Job’s story reveals that God cannot really be known through theology and law. God can only be related to and known in relationship, just like the Trinity itself. Or, as the mystics assert, we know God by loving God, trusting God, and placing our hope in God. We cannot really “think” God.
Job’s religious friends and advisers have correct theory but no experience; thoughts about God, but no love of God. They believe in their theology; Job believes in the God of their theology. It is a big difference. The first is information; the second is wisdom.
I realise it doesn’t exactly answer the question directly, but I believe it points us in a helpful direction in terms of finding our answer from wherever it is we find ourselves in this moment.
5 July 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3Uxp7P5jie5wJmz0RS5rfJa The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson explores the theme of discipleship. In the opening chapter there are two quotes. One from Jeremiah 12:5 ‘If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?’ The second is from Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is…that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.’ (Beyond Good and Evil)
Peterson goes on to explore the Psalms of Ascent, 120-134, as being the tools for shaping that obedience but I wonder if the title and the two quotes above are enough food for thought in this instance?
I am sure we have all reached that stage of being weary. We’re worn out with waiting. We’re tired of the never ending cycle of Zoom meetings. We’re fed up with looking at the same four walls. We’ve missed our family and friends and so I could go on.
I wonder, if in part, the reactions we have witnessed recently of people throwing caution and common sense to the wind are part of our collective frustration and rising levels of stress. Yet, despite the lifting of restrictions and the relaxing of the lockdown, there is still a way to go yet.
Let me, therefore, simply encourage us not to lose sight of the prize. In this case it is about keeping each other as well as ourselves safe. Let us remain vigilant and not grow weary of doing the tedious thing in helping to guard against infection. After all, the sacrifice indicates, amongst other things, a love of neighbour that owns what Jesus taught so well in his parables as well as his life.
Picking up the threads of last week’s mention of exploring alternative worship opportunities, I am pleased to announce that we plan to hold a Worship Together Service next Sunday, 12th July, using Zoom to facilitate it. We realise that, for some, using Zoom may well hold some trepidation. If you would like to join us but are feeling diffident about it, let me know and we will endeavour to offer some assistance in helping you prepare for joining in.
28 June 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3XzzGoN9qLTVZ7u4Kt5Mps8 The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
What a difference a week makes! Well, almost!
I am sure the announcement by the Government this week that, as from the 4th July, all churches can resume normal activities has probably caught your attention. Actually, whilst the headline makes for good reading, the devil, as they say, is in the detail!
Some of that detail you ought not to be unfamiliar with as the essence of it was contained in the covering letter to the Worship & Other Activities survey you completed last week. No doubt, along with that information, I’m sure, like me, you have been concerned at the sights we have seen unfolding on TV this week as people have descended on shops and beaches once again. The word that leaps out of those scenes at me is RISK! Indeed, the reality is that COVID-19 has not miraculously disappeared and is very much with us and we need to manage that risk well.
With that in mind the Church Council focused the by far larger part of its conversation, on a rather debilitatingly humid evening and using Zoom for the first time, on Wednesday evening in evaluating the survey and discerning our next steps.
What was clear was that our members are cautiously optimistic about the idea of returning to public worship but would prefer to do so in the church. There was a rather surprising level of interest in exploring a virtual service using Zoom, which we intend to follow up on. At the same time there were concerns expressed about picking up our own community outreach projects and the fate of our hirers.
The outcome of the conversation was that the Coronavirus Support Group was tasked with the responsibility of establishing what our various hall users’ needs might be in order to prepare a strategy for re-engaging with the premises to be approved by Church Council by means of an extraordinary meeting in due course.
What does this mean for us?
Firstly, the buildings remain CLOSED.
Secondly, we will continue to provide the care and support for one another that we have done over these past 14 weeks. Also, we will continue to offer the weekly update and Worship at Home materials to sustain our church life in these different circumstances. In that regard I, along with the Council, want to express a heartfelt and sincere word of thanks to all those making this possible. To each one taking the time to pick up the phone, drop off shopping, collecting prescriptions, chatting over the fence, organising Zoom gatherings, posting the weekly update, risking yourself in front of the camera and in many other ways completely unnoticed – THANK YOU! You truly are the Body of Christ making his presence known in this community!
Thirdly, as and when the Support Group has completed its task, we will inform you of the next steps. It is clear that the work of preparing the buildings for re-opening is far from straightforward. Guidance is given from both Government and Connexion and has to be carefully considered and followed as not doing so leaves us liable for the consequences. Weighing all that up and implementing it will take time. We will keep you informed as the next steps unfold.
21 June 2020 (and some for the children - children's sheet and colouring sheet) - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3WBZoIaoBbWo8dJPC70--CE The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
Somewhere in conversation this past week someone suggested we got the terminology wrong! We’ve been talking about ‘Social Distancing’ when really we mean ‘Physical Distancing’! Ok, so accuse me of splitting hairs, but think about it. There is a world of difference in the two terms, isn’t there?
The fact of our creation screams ‘No!’ to the idea of isolation. Contrary to Mr Paul Simon we are not rocks and islands and we do feel the pain of separation – just witness the extreme lengths people have gone to given half a chance to gather together over the past few weeks. I know it only too well within myself, the need to interact with others. To feel the warmth of fellowship, to see more than just a face on a Zoom screen, to share in the company of others the things that enrich our lives together. All these things feed the longing in us to be back in each other’s company, physically again – even if it means being one or two meters apart!
But how and when? These are two vexing questions that are shaped by an even bigger question: What’s our duty of care towards each other and the community we seek to serve?
Jesus’ most famous parable, The Good Samaritan, is one that challenges us deeply in this situation. To me, the parable is notable in that Jesus bluntly ignores the self-absorbed question and points us in an altogether different direction. He is not at all interested in answering the small question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ as he is in pushing us in the direction of being the kind of neighbour needed in the moment of crisis. So, what kind of neighbour are we going to be – to one another and to the community we find ourselves in? What are the needs and the opportunities we can explore in this moment and, what are the pre-occupations with ourselves we need to avoid? How safe do we have to be? How much risk dare we take?
We won’t get it altogether right but we must try and indeed we are. A document that has been published by the United Reformed Church and discussed at District level and shared with the London Road Church Council and Partridge Green Leadership Team entitled Ready for the New Normal is available here: https://urc.org.uk/images/Communications/New-Normal-2020.pdf Together with the responses to the survey at London Road it will help shape our thinking about our next steps and I can highly recommend it. So, have a read and be prepared to continue to help us shape a New Normal both here at London Road and Partridge Green as our conversation continues.
The Methodist Conference meets from the 25th June to the 2nd July so please remember them as they meet in a very different way than before. If you wish to follow Conference you can do so here: https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/the-methodist-conference-will-meet-online-this-year/ The Connexion has placed a hold on all guidance regarding re-opening churches until after Conference has met and so, for now, our buildings remain closed except where decisions have been implemented to open for private prayer and recording or streaming of services.
14 June 2020 - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3VKW2xlI935LNtKIdJV4-I9 The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
Well, here we are at week 12 and with it some quite important announcements by the Government, not least of which is the indication that Churches can open for ‘private prayer’. I am sure this announcement has created a great deal of expectation so I thought I would take a moment to share some of our thinking with you.
It is somewhat coincidental that our survey exploring your aspirations regarding reconnecting with the building is being shared today as well but it all forms part of the wider conversation regarding opening things up.
The biggest challenge for the church in this moment is, I believe, our duty of care towards both our church family and the wider community of which we are a part and whom we seek to serve. From a Connexional point of view not much has changed and the guidance we are receiving from head office remains pretty much the same. We have been instructed to keep the premises closed for hirers, except in those cases where pre-schools are involved. We have still not been given permission to hold any church activities on site as yet apart from being able to consider opening for private prayer.
The challenge is in exercising that duty of care. As you will no doubt see from the survey there are a wide range of conditions that need to be met in order to be able to facilitate anyone coming on site and the Coronavirus Support Group is convinced that, unless we can make those work, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to use the premises.
So where does that leave us?
Well, hopefully not too downcast! I realise it might not quite be the news we were hoping for but there is opportunity in all this. Perhaps we might have entered this particular ‘dark night of the soul’ with impatient expectations of it all soon being past us but it isn’t yet. Instead we have time to further explore opportunities this moment has created for us. Maybe if we ask ourselves what is it that I have appreciated being the recipient of during this time and how might we ‘pay it forward?’ Or, what new discipline has this ‘incarceration’ begun to instil in me and how can I embed that in my practice going forward? Or, what new need have I seen and is God calling me to engage with something I feel nervously excited about! Perhaps taking time to share these thoughts with someone else is a good place to start so let me encourage you to do that.
For our part we will seek to create as safe a space as possible, in due time, to enable us to reconnect when the time is right. We will use your responses to the survey to help shape that expectation and as soon as we have opportunity to make it happen, you’ll be the first to know!
7 June 2020 - You can also join in with us by clicking on this link on Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVPVWJuIEj3UCZOLBvTRcd-tHfc5f3ice The service will be available to watch from 10am on Sunday morning.
Words from our Minister:
In my devotions this week, Richard Rohr has been focusing on the theme of Alternative Community in response to what has been happening, primarily in America, but also around the globe. I thought I would share his reflection from Thursday entitled Being One with the Other. Richard’s comments are in italics.
It would seem that, quite possibly, the ultimate measure of health in any community might well reside in our ability to stand in awe at what folks have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it. —Gregory Boyle
Homeboy Industries may be one of the most visibly transformative communities in the United States today. It was founded in 1998 by Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle, or “G” (as his community likes to call him). Moved by the heartache of the people he served while pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg started Homeboy Industries to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Along with many Homeboys and Homegirls, he believes the healing process can only happen when we are in relationship with one another. The success of this organization offers evidence to support his belief.
Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just “forgotten that we belong to each other.” Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice—we would be celebrating it.
Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.
Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that. . . .
No daylight to separate us.
Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses onto fulfilment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it [2:3].”
Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.
At Homeboy Industries, we seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them—and then we watch, from this privileged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again. No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it—it is just that huge.
Perhaps as we reflect on these things God will lead us to a different place of being the Church both during and post COVID-19.
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.
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:
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)
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.
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 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 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 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!