A Minister's Blog
Feb 24th 2021
Saying thank you
This is the front of the card that has been designed to be sent to keyworkers as a way of saying thank you and that we are praying for somebody.If you haven't already, you may like to think about sending for some (you cn get them from the Association Office) and sending them to people you know, family members, neighbours and others who are doing amazing work.
As I talk to those who have family or friends working in the NHS and other caring and supportive agencies, it is clear people are getting very tired. It has been a long road, and we are not yet at the end of it.
A moment to say thank you, and we are praying for you might just give a lift that is really needed right now....
Feb 17th 2021
Today marks the beginning of Lent; the period in the year when we prepare for the celebration of Easter. It is not normally a day that Baptists have made much of, but in some parts of the church it is very important as a day of repentance. Part of the practice of the day involves having a cross marked on one's forehead and the words "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" said.
This year, I have been introduced to this poem, which is a new take on these words, and I love it. So, I am sharing it with us, as a prayer for this day. It is written by Jan Richardson
All those days
when you felt like dust
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corner
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial -
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
of for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust
within the dirt
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
Feb 10th 2021
The "new normal"...?
A few weeks ago, Jeremy wrote us a really helpful reflection on this blog about "building back better" and imagining a "new normal", and I have been thinking a lot about that since. Hence the image. Not - please note - that I am suggesting that our yet-to-come life as a congregation will be constructed out of marshmallows and cocktails sticks!!
And yet.... I wonder what it is we are looking to for the construction of our "new normal"? We are getting various things sorted out during this period...taking advantage of the building being empty to get our fire safety policies up to date, for example. We have not forgotten that we need to do some investigating about how best to care for the hole in the floor that is our baptistry....
There are other aspects of our life that we are reflecting on...how best to go on using the skills in and gifts of tech that we have learned; what other use we might make of our outdoor space, as we have been doing new things when ithas been the only space we have...? And then there are questions about the new patterns of fellowship we have developed - our various meetings that have grown up during the week as we have not been out and about; which ofthese might continue, and in what form. And of course, we have discussions to have about restarting our previous activities -and what shape these might take.
All of these questions matter, and we are discussing them in various contexts (in particular our not-the-church-meeting gatherings).
Underlying all these questions are the questions about the building blocks. That picture above comes from one of the meetings of the youngest of our youth groups. It is a popular activity. They are given cocktail sticks and marshmallows....and they come up with the wildest designs, the weirdest structures, and much delight and giggles.
We have - a building; a tradition; a faith; a community; a garden and car park; a desire to serve; a sense of frienship and a willingness to accept one another....
We have - a history, both joyful and painful; a hope that the vision of the Kingdom does actually mean something; a commitment to love and to be loved; a place in our lives for worship, for being connected to something bigger than our selves.
We have - a call from God. The promise of the Risen Presence of the Incarnate One. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
What wonderful, unexpected, delightful - and possibly slightly weird - life together might be built as our "new normal"?
Feb 3rd 2021
Signs of spring?
I saw these on my walk today, and they were so encouraging.
Any plant coming up at this time of year is encouraging...the signs that winter will pass, that spring is coming, that life is still active and "alive"...always hopeful, but after the last 12 months, even more so.
And it is in the context of the last 12 months that these have give me particular joy! There are other plants around - I even saw some crocuses the other day, and their bright yellow was a smile in the border.
But these - weeds, because they are in the wrong place, and probably causing damage by growing under a foundation though they might be - have given me real joy. Precisely because they are in the wrong place and are wild rather that cultivated. They are the affirmation that life is not neat, tidy, controlled - and that it breaks through...
I read a poem by RS Thomas some weeks ago, which contained the lines
He is the wilderness imprisoned under our flagstones yet escaping from them in a haemorrhage of raw flowers
There will come colder days again, and there will be moments when I am frustrated and miserable, and feel like I am losing hope. There are plenty of times when I feel that God is imprisoned in my limted understanding, the constraints of trying to get it right, the un-knowingness of living in a context where the complexities baffle me.
But he escapes in a haemorrhage of raw flowers....and weeds growing through a wall remind me that there is hope, there is life, there is love...
And when the world is - and has to be for everybody's safety - so narrow and constrained, and when my own thinking gets limited because I am tired, unimaginative and trapped in worn out patterns...yet, still, life happens, and love emerges, and hope is born again.
Jan 27 2021
Remembering in grief and anger
This is the front page of one of the orders of service for events that are happening around the country and around the world today. The day when we remember with grief, anger and horror the events that come together inder the title Holocaust; the killing, by mass produced murder of Jews, gay men and women, men and women with disabilities, Gypsies and others, by a regime that remains to many, thankfully, incomprehensible.
The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, discussing the motivation of those who were part perpetrating this horror, spoke of "the banality of evil" - that is, somebody (in the situation she was discussing, Eichmann) who was not consciously "doing wrong", but was doing what he needed to do to be good at his job without - and this is the crucial point - actually thinking about the reality and the meaning of what he was doing.
There is a great deal of controversy about the phrase and about whether it is a proper description of Eichmann and others - were they truly "unaware" of what they were doing? It wasn't that they didn't know the facts; they did. They knew that millions were being killed. But were they "unaware" because they had become so disassociated from reality that they could not be assigned a role as truly monstrous beings, but were simply ordinary, unimaginative, and unthinking people who did their jobs?
There is good reason to think that Arendt's understanding of Eichmann is flawed; his own documentation of his committed Nazi convictions makes it clear that he was nto simply doing a job, but deeply believed in what he was doing.
But there remains a value in the phrase - for it is the reminder that the Holocaust was not carried out by people who are somehow a different kind of human from the rest of us. The danger with identifying some people as radically evil is that it lets the rest of us off the hook, since we are not that bad.
But Holocaust Remembrance Day is the reminder that while there were those carrying out unspeakably evil acts from deep and horrific convictions, there were also those who let it pass because getting involved was too threatening or demanding, and - and this might be particularly uncomfortable - there were those who, while not involved, yet did not resist because while they might have thought this was going too far, yet, there was some sympathy with the basic premise that there were those without whm society would be better off.
We have seen and are seeing the rise in our own country and in other nations patterns of thought that are disturbing; resentment against "others" - those whose colour, language, culture, religion, sexuality is not regarded as "us". And the death camps don't emerge from nothing.. They start in the place where the division between "us" and "them" is allowed to take root.
When we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are walking in the footsteps of Jewish man - killed by a dominant regime who defined "us" and killed "them" for the sake of peace.
Today matters - not just for our remembering, but for our future.
Jan 20 2021
Guest Blog Post - A Better Normal?
By Jeremy Oxley, Church Member
People keep talking about “getting back to normal”, and, yes there are things which we all miss during these times, but there was quite a bit wrong too.
It is human nature to look back at a mythical “golden age” (often around our childhood which, for most, are the happiest times without the duties and responsibilities of adulthood as children we are shielded from some of the harsher realities of the world) and overlook the imperfections. A great deal of the national conversation is still, 75 years on, about the second world war, “wartime spirit” and the like (as well as a little jingoism and/or xenophobia, if we’re being honest) - it is well worth remembering that the majority of people who remember that period now, were children at the time so their view is likely to be rosier (I wonder how contemporary children will remember this period in history in 70 years time - probably not in the way that the doom-mongers insist, there's much talk of life long consequences!).
It is so much easier (and often far more comfortable) to “do things the way we’ve always done them”, but sometimes doing things differently can be valuable, bring us so much more than our tired traditions and possibly re-invigorate them, I think we need to re-imagine our world, or, at least those bits of it we can influence.
Maybe instead of getting back to “normal” or having a “new normal” we should seek out a “better normal”!
Jan 13 2021
The promise of things to come
Who knew it was possible to get so excited about somebody sticking a needle in you. And yet we are!!
Several in the congregation have had both jabs. More have had or are about to have their first. Some of us will have to wait a bit longer. But it's coming. The signs are there, and we can begin to feel the difference, even if actually, on a day to day level, life is just what it was. We are still locked down, there are strict regulations about where we can go, what we can do, who we can see. We are still hearing anxiety provoking news of rising numbers and a fragile health service. We are still overwhelmingly grateful to our front-line workers for the amazing work they are doing.
And beside all that, we know there is change coming. We are daring to hope, maybe even wondering when we might make plans again, and imagining what those plans might be....
I believe there is no more gospel-shaped place to be. Being fully aware of what is, and of its struggle, brokeness and beauty - and knowing that there is more, that there will be change, that what we see and live in is not all there is, but something more lies ahead.
And - just as we know that getting from here to there in terms of moving into a freer way of living involves us all doing and not doing certain things, so in our lives as followers seeking the Kingdom of God.
We know that it is God's intention - and we know that it is God's action.
And we know too that how we live, the choices we make, the attitudes we express and the people we are becoming are part of how God brings the Kingdom.
So, as we look at the news stories that distress us, make us angry, bewilder us with the quesiton of just how could this happen; as we continue to feel the frustration and limitation, the loneliness and weariness of our current situation - so we can look ahead, in faith, hope and commitment to live lovingly, waiting to see newness come.
That is the promise of Christmas, it is the gift of Easter; it is the deep truth of our faith.
Jan 6 2021
We've been here before
Ten months ago, this was the slogan that dominated our lives, and shaped the lockdown that lasted for several months.
I don't think we expected, as that eased, and we began to think about beginning to do things again that we would be back here again now.
Or if we did, we did it hoping it might not be true.
But here we are - just the same.
Though, of course, it is not the same. We know more about how to do this now. Individually and as a congregation, we know how to manage this experience (not to say that it is easy, but the "how do I make zoom work", "can I get shopping" "what is a support bubble" is now not new, but something we take for granted now). And the medics know much more about how to treat serious symptoms, even if the new form is proving demanding.
And there is the vaccine - not just a vague hope, but a present promise.
And all of that makes facing this lockdown both easier and more demanding.
It is easier since some of what frightened and confused us is now different, and it is harder because it feels like going back to the beginning, and we are tired, we've done this....
When I was writing (interminably) a doctoral thesis, I discovered the reality of the spiral as a means of progress, and since then, I have seen it in so much of my life. You know what I mean.....those moments when you are back doing something you thought was done, and it is frustrating and boring and disappointing....and yet, it is different because you bring new knowledge, deeper experience and more wisdom, and so the outcome is not to end up at exactly the same place, but to move on....
In writing the thesis, it was the experience of going back to read the same chapter or letter (my work was based on somebody's writings, both published and private) yet again...but doing it having learned more, had more time to think, been part of a conversation that gave me new questions and deeper answers.... I progressed, not in a straight line, but by revisiting the same material over and over, but in new ways.
I find the same thing is so often true in my faith; I am still asking the same questions (and struggling with the same tendencies) as I was when I was baptised. But I come to the questions, and the struggles with new wisdom gleaned from being with faithful people, with new courage developed through the experience of having gone through this before, with new insight as I simply learn more about me, about the world, and, hopefully, about God. It's the same but different.
If I could draw, I would include a cartoon here of a bike wheel - it goes round and round - and forward at the same time. That!
So, yes - we've been here before and we did not want to be back here. But it's not the same because we are not the same. There is movement.
And, thank God, it is true not just of lockdowns, but also of discovering what it is to be a faithful people of God....we go round and round. But in grace, we don't' go round in circles, but in a spiral, moving forward in love, faith and service.
Dec 23 2020
Maybe it's just that I am paying more attention this year, but we do seem to be sending more Christmas cards than we have been doing recently. And very lovely it is too. That delightful opening of the envelope, enjoying the picture, reading the message and being moved at being remembered.
Of course, normally, when we can come and go from the building freely, we have had the habit of each sending one card to everybody, and putting it up on the card tree - and I confess, I am missing that tradition.
Others are missing it too....not least, those who receive our donations given in lieu of postage, often Christian Aid. At our Christmas service each year, we usually give our offering to one of our chosen charities, again, frequently, Christian Aid. We had planned to do that this year too. But what with not having an on-site service, we are not having an offering.
Christian Aid is continuing to do vital work - even more vital as this year has been going on.
And it is still possible to give. So, even if you are not giving in lieu of postage, or bringing your offering to the Christmas morning service, you might still want to donate to this important work. Here is a link to help you do it;
I'm loving the Christmas cards - thank you! Maizie-dog is enjoying them too; she barks every time something comes through the letter box... :)
Let's spread the joy a bit further, and give to those who depend on the work Christian Aid is doing.
Dec 16 2020
Christmas in the Car Park
It was not the weather we ordered, but that aside, it all went well. Santa visited, and was greeted by nearly 40 children at various points (all carefully distanced), and Santa's elf did a wonderful job in looking after him and them. And the gifts to the foodbank that were being donated as Santa was being visited were amazingly generous.
The next day, the tent and the radio broadcast went well, and Carols By Headlight went well....
The Christmas Trail in the garden has attracted all sorts of visitors and the Crib at the Gate is still being added to - and still being looked at as people go past (and stop to look!)
Contrary to rumour, Christmas has not been cancelled. It just looks different. And it's not over yet....Satuday Night Social on zoom, Longest Night on zoom and livestreamed to facebook, Midnight service in the building, Christmas morning service on zoom...the celebrations and reflections, praise and prayer keep on going....
And different might not be a bad thing. Routine and knowing what we are doing is reassuring and straightforward.
But there are moments when being a rut threatens.
And whatever else is at the heart of Christmas for those who follow Jesus, being in a rut is not it....whatever else God is doing in Jesus' birth, it is not "more of the same".
Yes, of course we miss "the same". But it has also been unexpectedly wonderful to discover something new....
Hmmmm....I wonder what that might tell us about God in Christmas.....?
Dec 9 2020
Nativity on Pingate Lane
Our Nativity scene is gradually filling up; the innkeeper is beginning to look a bit panicked...how is he going to fit everybody in? Sheep and shepherds are bad enough - but so many others keep turning up...!!
No, it's not a traditional nativity scene, and it is far from a traditional cast of characters. And it's not only because we needed to have a figure to add in each day of Advent. Our intention is two-fold...to give a visual representation of our conviction that what happens in the stable is not just about 2000 years ago and far away, but is to do with here, now and us, all of us.
And it is a way of honouring our key workers and welcoming those who might otherwise be excluded. We believe that this fits the story we are told in the gospels - shepherds were among the key workers of their day (poorly paid, overlooked and necessary, keeping a community going by providing resources) and magi were excluded (outsiders from another culture and nation, not fitting in easily, bringing "foreign ways")
At the heart of it, at the moment, a waiting...a waiting which will be filled with a Presence, large enough, loving enough, committed to us enough to welcome all....
Dec 2nd 2020
Familiar and strange
As Advent starts, we are so aware of all the things are different, things we can't do that we normally do, things that are strange. There has been all sort of amazing creativity and originality offered to hep us explore new ways of keeping Advent, and making the journey to Christmas...
But let's be real; it still feels strange.
So, it is lovely to see our familiar picture put up in the building. (Those who are able to come to the in-building service this Sunday will see it "in the flesh").
In a time of strangeness, it is wonderful to have something familiar. It is the reminder that, though there are many differences, and much that makes us uncomfortable or even feel in exile, yet there is also deep continuity; continuity of relationship, of place and history, of resources - and of the underlying sustaining and renewing presence of God.
Churches have to work very hard at being neither so committed to the past that we get frozen and can't move, or being so determined to embrace and explore the new that we get disconnected from our story. To see a deeply familiar image of a well known and well-loved story in the midst of doing new things and discovering a whole world (of technology, medical knowledge, isolation) that we never expected is to be deeply enabled to keep that balance. Maybe we wouldn't have chosen to do it this way, but if it is what we are being led to embrace, let's do it as well as we can.
Nov 25 2020
If you wander past the church car park at the moment, you will see, beside the notice board, a large wooden and corrugated iron structure, swathed in black plastic, with a noice on it saying "What's this?"
"This" is the first stage in our Advent Car Park. Thanks to all sorts of creative brilliance and dedication, we will explore different aspects of advent and Christmas, with colour, light, socially - distanced gatherings and general merriment. And some serious stuff, some reflective and challenging stuff too. Come and see, come and join in...
Above all, we are hoping to remind ourselves, and those who walk past, or follow the development on social media that Christmas is not cancelled, Christmas is not even diminished. Some of what we normally do at this time of year may not be happening - but, we could always do some of it at another time (I know of one family who live very scattered. For years now, the sibilings have not been together in December, because there are other places to be - with partners families, cairing for young children, working. So they nominate a weekend, usually in February or in June, depending on various other circumstances, and have "Christmas" together then - decorations, presents, meal, daft games, the lot! It works well!!)
But Christmas is also about a discovery of a depth of love that exceeds our wildest imaginings.....
And this year, this would be a wonderful thing to remember and to offer to one another. We hope that Christmas in the Car Park might raise a smile, offer a giggle, encourage sharing and develop wonder...all aspects of exploring what it is to be people who are loved and so can love.
And wouldn't that change the world if we dared to let it?
Nov 11 2020
We shared our Act of Remembrance as part of our worship on Sunday - and inevitably, with today being the actual 11 of 11, it is still in mind... It is a day with great resonance for many, and one that can seem strange and in need of explanation for others. I was about 10 when I remember actually asking what this was about. I was not attending my own church and Sunday School that morning, but going with my Brownie Pack to the parish church for the Remembrance Day Parade. I'd heard of the war, of course; I was a child of the 60s...it was still well within people's memories, and there were even physical reminders still around (there was, I think, an Anderson shelter in the school playground...) But for some reason, that year, it suddenly became very important to me to understand what was going on, and why - as somebody who did not remember it - I was being asked to remember it.
My parents, and then my Brown Owl did a good job in explaining.
And it is an explanation that still needs to happen - or perhaps needs to happen even more. The "Never Again" that is the pledge following the horrors of the wars depends on remembering what it is we are not going to do again.
So, I think Remembrance Day matters - not the least as an educational exercise.
One of the regular exhortations of the Hebrew Scriptures is "teach your children my Words" - and the Passover Meal, the remembering of the rescue in the Exodus includes a "liturgy" in which the youngest child present asks "why do we do this" and so the the story is retold, so that everybody is reminded, and the children are taught.
An approach to Remembrance that asks "why do we do this" and gives an answer that elicits the response "never again" seems to me a fitting memorial to those who died so tragically.
Nov 4 2020
On being uncertain...
As I write this, the result of the election in the USA is still uncertain. As I write this, the House of Commons has still to vote on whether we will enter lockdown tomorrow. As I write this, the roadmap out of the pandemic is unclear. As I write this, whether those who can will take the necessary action to care for our environment is unclear.
And so I could go on.
It feels as if life, always uncertain to some extent, is even more unsure, unsteady and unpredictable than I evenr remember.
A bit of me wants to take refuge in verses like "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever" and "our God the unchanging one"....
And I do believe that the faithfulness of God is unchanging.
But I still have to live in and engage with a world in which I am bewildered and unknowing, even afraid, because I can't tell what's coming next and therefore I can't work out how to deal with it.
And it's that latter phrase that is the most demanding; I can't tell how to deal with things, because I have no map. Therefore I am not in control, and can only react.
And here is where I try to find a meaning in faith - not that I can control, or even that I can demand that God controls in line with my desires, wishes, best wisdom. But that I trust in a God who decided that the best way to connect with us, to reconcile and redeem us, to bring hope and renewal to a world of power, violence, struggle and conflict was to be out of control enough to be executed, and to love enough that the death of the cross could not in the end triumph.
It's not a comfortable place to be, this faith; it's not easy, and it doesn't make the unknowing, and the out of control-ness easier to bear. But it is the faith that we are called to if we are followers of Jesus.
For love is about not being in control, and takes us to places we don't know...and we are called not to control, not to dominate, but to love.
And whatever is going on, whatever the powers around us, we are still called to love, for whatever is going on, and whatever the powers around us are doing, we are still loved by the One who will stop at nothing to make enact that love.
Words, words, words...
I was an interested observer yesterday of an online discussion about cliches in "Christian language" and how annoyed certain phrases made people. I know we will all have had a little groan/chuckle as the same old phrase (which changes with the generations) makes it's appearance in prayer, or preaching, or the Christian press - or, the context that started this discussion, job adverts.
It was all quite amusing and there were moments of recognition as I saw phrases mentioned that either make me wince, or (sadly!) I have heard myself use.
But one of the wise people in the conversation reminded us that we should be careful to not be judgemental or dismissive of the words people are using, because sometimes those are the best words they can find. This then provoked further reflections on whether we should ever challenge or question the words...
Much food for thought; and at a time when words are being misused, twisted, deployed to dominate and intimidate, it is good to think about the words we use, the way we use the, and how we listen. Of course we shouldn't be laughing at people's attempts to speak of deep things when the words are too small; cliches are cliches for a good reason - they work! And of course jargon and in-speak can be used for the wrong reasons, and that should be questioned.
But even more significant, I suggest, is the need to listen to our own words and consider whether we are speaking to build up or to attack, to comfort or to denigrate.
And we should also be taking our responsibility to challenge the misuse of words to cover up, to manipulate and to silence...especially by those who are in power. Refusing to be silenced by stock responses, or to accept non-answers is all part of following the One who is the Word.
Oct 21 2020
Christmas is coming...
And it's going to look a bit different. Ok - so October seems a bit early to be talking about Christmas, but just because it is going to be a bit different, we need to take longer to plan than usual.
But above all, we want to say Christmas is happening.
We haven't agreed yet what we will be doing, just as many families don't yet know what will be happening...and the possibility of regulations changing means any plans are provisional. But above all, we want to affirm that we are doing something! Because Christmas is and has been many things - but at its heart it is the conviction that God is doing something!
In the middle of the muddle of the world, the confusion of joy and pain, the uncertainty about the future, the mistrust in leaders, the sense of frustration that was then, is now - and indeed, is most of the time, in the birth of a baby, God got involved. It may not have looked like people wanted - many people were looking for an involvement that was on their side, was overthrowing leaders, was putting them in charge, while others might have been looking for a more direct rescue, being removed from an uncomfortable situation. But, even if it wasn't what people wanted or expected, still it was God at work, and it changed everything.
So, we may not be able to do what we want, or what we normally expect....but that is quite in line with how God does stuff. So, I invite your prayers as we plan; your prayers for our planning, and your prayers for all those who are anxious about what Christmas is going to be this year. May it be a time in which the very strangeness itself opens up to God's new thing....
Oct 14 2020
On rain and fake news
In a comment on facebook recently, inviting people to come and donate to Chelwood Foodbank on a Saturday in the car park, I commented that it would probably be raining - because it always rains on a Saturday morning.
Quite rightly, I have been corrected. Apparently, on the Saturdays since we started collecting only 1/3 of the days have been wet....though some of them have been very wet, as this picture shows!
Well, I am quite willing to accept these figures as accurate. I confess I did not sit down and work it out.
Rather, I gave my impression.
And since the correction, I've been thinking quite a bit about that.
There is, I insist, no justification for the kind of "fake news" that sets out to deceive, to present somebody or some organisation in a deliberately better or worse light for the sake of some agenda, or that intends to build up a particular image of the world in order to achieve a political, economic or religious aim.
But I've been wondering about the impressions we can create because we depend on the impressions we receive...I felt that it was very wet, and so that is what I said - without checking, and without even wondering about whether my impression was justified.
Similarly, there is a lot of concern about the way in which students going back to uni has caused great leaps in CV infection, and we are all taking it for granted, especially when we know people who are affected by it. In fact, across the country, the vast majority of colleges and unis are not badly hit by infection, though they are badly disrupted by all the necessary new ways of doing things.
I have heard it said that "all churches are now doing...." whatever it is... And I know it's not the case, but the person I am talking to has experienced this, for example in their own church, and so generalises from their own experience (as indeed, I do myself in talking about churches!) Ministers do it when we are talking about finding a pastorate - "women under thirty are never called" , "single men find it hard to be invited to a church", "if you are known to be willing to accept same-sex marriage you will never be allowed to be a minister" - I have heard all these said - and know plenty of cases of people in these situations who have found churches easily and happily. And plenty who haven't. And that's my point. The situation is usually much more complex than a simple statement.
Generalising from our own experience as if it is the only one is a dangerous thing to do. It's where being part of a community, and listening to one another's story, experience and questions is a vital part of not limiting our understanding of the world, and assuming that, because it is true for us in our experience, it is always and everywhere true.
The world is bigger than my experience of it.
And it doesn't always rain on Saturdays!
September 30 2020
Well, I can't promise that it will be this sunny, but it will be good; on Sunday afternoon, we are holding our first in-building service since March. We will meet at 3.00pm for about 30 minutes for a service of readings and prayers. Chairs will be socially distanced, there will be a one-way system and sanitiser ready, and we ask, unless you are exempt, please wear a mask.
It won't be what we took for granted pre-CV, and it is not to take the place of what we have become used to on zoom and soundcloud....it is a new thing for a new season. And it is exciting and a little daunting. Can we "do church" in a new way?
Well, the answer is obviously yes... we make a habit of it! Our whole origins are rooted in doing things in new ways, ways we had no model for and had to make up, and sort out to fit the times, context and the understanding of God and of being the people of God that we knew ourselves to be. For the first Baptists, this meant precisely moving out of "churches" and meeting in a variety of buildings - homes to start with, and then bakeries, barns, sometimes the open air....and then chapels that looked, from the outside, like domestic buildings. We have only used buildings that looked like " churches" from the middle of the 19th century. And in more recent years, we have moved away from that - because it doesn't really fit what we aim to do in the buildings - the calling we know we have as our kind of congregation.
In the same way, our forebears let go of known patterns of worship and "reinvented" what they did to be in line with their reading of Scripture and their convictions about not being a hierarchy...no prayer book, but extempore prayer, or prayer written by people for this place and time, to fit this situation; an emphasis on reading Scripture and reflecting on it together; communion shared among the congregation, not distributed by a priest....
And so, we are doing what we have always done; working to understand our situation, and discern what God is doing here and now, and how we might join in.
We won't get it right first time. And it will feel strange - maybe uncomfortable. We will miss things (though it is also worth remembering our Baptist forebears didn't sing; it was regarded as dangerous! - they did share meals though....) But, in faith, we will explore - in-building, and through paper and technology - and, in hope, we will trust that we are not abandoned, but that our God is still with us and leading us on to something new and faithful.
I would value your prayers as we prepare for Sunday - and, for those who can make it, thank you for coming.
September 23 2020
A Harvest thanksgiving with a difference
Well, everything else is different this year, so why not harvest.....
We can't decorate the church. It's going to be tough to sing the harvest hymns. And the wonderful sights and tastes and scents of shared food are not such a good idea this year.
But we do still have the resources we need to sustain our lives; we are still dependent on and supplied by the good things that the earth produces, we are still enabled to go on enjoying good food because of the labour of farmers, suppliers, deliverers, shop staff - and sometimes even those who cook for us!
So we are still giving thanks - even if we are not gathering the building to do it.
And we are still aware that the resources we have are not available to everybody, the ease with which we can access what we need is something very privileged.
So, we are still making our offerings - giving gifts that will be shared with Wellspring and Chelwood Food Bank, so that the good things to which we have access, the produce of the earth, can be more equitably shared.
Details of gifts we need and how to donate them will be on our facebook page.
A harvest with a difference - yes. But also the same; thankfulness and sharing.... What more do we need?
September 16th 2020
A book group as a gospel lesson
Tonight is our sort-of-every-two-months book group. We have been meeting for about a year now, and great fun it is too!
We have read books I would never have got around to reading, we have not exactly agreed (I think there's only been one book we have all liked!) and we have blethered with enthusiasm.
One of the things that I have loved about it - as an inveterate novel-reader - has been the context in which I have read books that were completely new to me, and which have given me another view of the world; either form a different culture, or a different time period, or even a different theory of mind (reading books about people who are "wired differently").
This seems to me not just a valid, but a vital theological exercise; not that we are talking about God all the time (or even any of the time) - but we are discovering that the world is bigger and more various than our experience and context.
I am more and more convinced that this is a gospel practice; the technical term is being decentred - that is being reminded that we are not the centre of the world, and even that our culture, our historical context is not the centre of the world.
The way the Bible story accounts for the pan and struggle that mark so much of human life and society is with a story in which Adam and Eve organise things on the basis that they are the centre of the world; they put themselves in the place of God. It is a story that continues to hold our imaginations because it reflects so well the experience we have - the conviction and experience that each of us has that we are the centre of the world. To read a good novel - and then to talk about it with people's whose experience of that novel itself is different, is to discover another truth; that the world is bigger than my and my decisions, my choices, my needs, desires and intentions.
And that is a gospel thing. It is a moment of grace - to step out of centering everything around myself, and accepting and exploring something bigger, different, strange and challenging.
And it's fun!
September 9th 2020
The Church Dog blogs....
A few weeks ago, one of the humans who shares my house, and who regularly writes this blog asked for guest contributors. We had a lovely piece about youth groups, so that gave me confidence to write my reflections....I am the Church Dog, so I have a unique insight into our life together - from a perspective a little nearer the ground than most people.
My perspective is also more based on my nose than my eyes...and is largely reinforced by my delight in tummy-rubs and my appreciation for those who offer them.
And I have to say, at the moment, it is not happening a lot!
Every Sunday my humans stare at screens and seem to get very excited about "meeting" people with whom they worship, pray and laugh....but my nose doesn't register anything, and my tummy remains resolutely unrubbed. So, I am not at all convinced of the reality of these people in the little box!
But then there are Saturdays! Ah....Saturdays! On Saturday mornings, my humans go to the place they call "the car park" - and there are other humans there too. And they rub my tummy and stroke my ears, and seem very pleased to see me. And my nose tells me they are really there!
I am pretty sure that they all come to see and cuddle me - I mean, who wouldn't!
But my humans tell me there is another reason too. And it is true - they usually carry bags of human food, and they empty the bags into the cars - which then leaves their hands free to dispense tummy rubs, so that's good. But I am led to believe that the rubbing of the tummy is not the main reason why people come. In fact, I am told the reason they come is even more important than that (if such a thing were possible!!) The things they put in the cars are then taken to the Foodbank, from where they are delivered to people who otherwise would struggle to have enough to eat and drink and would find it hard to get the things they need to keep their homes running well.
Now, I am no expert in economics (my degree is in wuffles and kissy-licks, since you ask!), but I am pretty sure that a world where people don't have enough to eat is a world that is not working properly. So I am very glad that there are ways of making it better. I'd love to think that there would come a time when the only reason for visiting the car park on a Saturday is to pay me my dues in cuddles - but until then, I am glad to share the attention with the car boots. The picture above is my inspecting the donations. I am delighted to say that they were all up to standard, and reflected a great deal of care, imagination and attention.
So - two reasons to look forwards to Saturdays; you can give me a cuddle, thus making my life (and yours!) substantially better - AND - you can make a huge difference in the lives of people you may never meet, but who are your neighbours, and real people, who just want to live with dignity.
What's not to like?
September 2nd 2020
As the extra measures that were imposed on Manchester a few weeks ago are eased today, so we are back where we were early in August; we can visit one another in gardens, stay overnight friends, have our eyebrows plucked and go to the casino (it's going to be a busy week!)
The extra restrictions that our area undertook to control local outbreaks have now been eased - though not without controversy.
And the controversy is the reminder that nobody really knows what we are doing - not through wilful ignorance or stupidity, but because this is new, and we are still discovering. It is easy to get impatient with changes in regulations, and seemingly illogical decisions - and there are times when it is right to call those in authority to account, challenge the assertions and question the decisions. For example, I am deeply disturbed that, having said he would meet the group representing the bereaved through this pandemic, our Prime Minister is now withdrawing from that plan.
But surely it is also important that we do not simply blame, when restrictions are changed, or imposed, and especially when, as new things are learned, guidelines are changed. I had much rather that those who are skilled in this go on finding out more and then bring their advice up to date in the light of new evidence, than that we decide that we know all there is to know, and stick to where we were months ago, not changing anything. After all, that position taken a century ago would have stopped any of the advances in understanding, prevention and even treatment that have been developed since the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918...
It is difficult that things keep changing - we've been looking at the guidelines for going back into the church building, and they keep changing (thank you to the Baptist Union for keeping abreast of them, and helping us interpret them for our way of conducting church). It would be lovely if we could just wake up and it was all back to normal!
But failing that, it helps to remember that the basics remain the same; careful washing of hands in hot water and with soap for at least 20 seconds, keeping 2 m apart, and paying attention to those who are vulnerable so that we do not put anybody at particular risk.
These - and the individual restrictions that apply in particular places and times - are the practical outworkings of the theological identity that we aspire to; those who love our neighbours and follow our self-giving Lord.
August 26 2020
For about 20 years now, a growing number of churches have been keeping the season between Sept 1st and Oct 4th as Creation Time. It is a time in the year when we can concentrate more explicitly than usual on the wonders of creation, and our place within it, as well as taking seriously our calling to care for what has been entrusted to us.
As part of exploring this, on Sundays, our services will concentrate on creation themes, and the actions of care and change that we might adopt or develop.
And we will also join with other churches in Cheadle Hulme for a united service on Sunday Aug 30th at 6.30 (You may read elsewhere that it is on Thursday Aug 27th - this is my chaotic organisational skills. I am sorry - I passed on the incorrect info to important people!) You can join the service through our normal zoom link, or by livestream on the CTCH Facebook page or, our own youtube channel Grove Lane Youtube
But whether you take part in the services or not, the significant thing is that we pay attention to the cries of creation, and take seriously the call to change things. There are all sorts of resources available online and through literature. We know what to do, and how to do it.
The question is whether we are willing to?
One of the gifts of the church calendar is that it keeps bringing us back to fundamental questions. Advent helps us prepare for the gift of Incarnation by reminding us of the penultimacy of our lives. Lent helps to prepare us for the coming of Easter by confronting us with the reality of our sinfulness and the brokenness of the world. Creation time is a season that refuses to let us away with wishful thinking, or assuming that "somebody else" will do it.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
August 19 2020
Guest Blog Post - Youth Groups in Lockdown
By Jeremy Oxley, Youth Groups Leadership Team
Like everyone else our Youth Groups had to stop abruptly in March. Luckily we use e-mail to keep members of The Net and Youth Group up to date about the weekly programme and other activities so we have e-mail addresses for all the parents, the 615ers programme runs a bit differently and we don't generally e-mail their parents although we have most of their addresses so were able to easily communicate with them.
Once it became clear that meeting in person wasn't going to be possible we decided that, rather than giving up completely, we'd try using video conferencing to replicate meetings. Our first week was started with no certainty that it would work for our groups or would be something which was useful for the children and young people. Numbers have been low compared to normal levels but steady – many of the children were homeschooling so being on the computer in the evening as well was difficult for some, some struggle with the technology, some didn't join in because their friends weren't and some didn't fancy it. We now have a steady but small number from each group joining in.
We decided early on that what we would do would be purely fun and entertaining – putting the 'issues' based stuff we do to one side until we can be back in the building and have the conversations more easily and sensitively. We often had an "interesting thing” to show or tell the children about, these included: a turn of the century “Magic Lantern”, a science based magic trick, and one of the first home computers. Thanks to our fantastic, creative leadership team we've done all manner of games, we initially tried to emulate games we'd do “in person” but whilst some of the ways of doing them were very silly, they were only ever a gimmick. Games have included “Pelmanism”, a maze game, Bingo (surprisingly popular), Snakes and Ladders, Connect 4, quizzes, and lots of others.
Communication is difficult, those quiet chats you'd usually find a moment for with ones who are having a hard time are impossible, as well as other bits of communication you don't even know you're doing like looking at the person whose turn is next in a game! There have been some really funny moments but also tears when we told them that this years camp was cancelled (it would have been the first one for quite a few of the Net members, yet another thing which would have been easier to communicate and mitigate if you're in the same room).
In normal times our groups close on Bank and School holidays but this year we're offering meetings for those who want them, every week as there is still a need there.
As to when we'll be back in the building or doing our other activities – we simply don't know yet - we've explored ideas of how we might do it or run outdoor meetings in the car park or grounds but the very necessary safety measures we'd have to take would leave us with meetings which weren't much fun for anyone involved.
So we continue with our imperfect online offering, there for those who need us for however long – we're all itching to get back, and to plan camps, nightwalks and sleepovers but won't until it's properly safe to do so!
August 12 2020
The top photo is of one of the rooms in the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary - in the hills outside Beirut.
The second one is a picture of the blast, and a diagram showing how far the damage spread mapped onto the centre of London, to help us understand....
The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary is now providing shelter and support for families made homeless by the blast, as are many other institutions and private homes; this in a city that has already lived through years of war and violence, and together with the rest of the nation has played host to 1.5 million refugees from Syria....
There is anger, frustration, sadness and devastation at the moment.
There is also love, hope, service, faith and determination to rebuild.
We pray for the people of the nation and the city. We pray for those trying to help. We pray for those who grieve. We pray for those who are responsible. We pray for justice. We pray for renewal.
August 5th 2020
On not going back...(yet)
We've talked long and hard, and reflected, prayed and considered...and at the moment, it doesn't seem that we are ready to return to worship in the building.
This is a hard thing to decide, especially as other churches - both in the area, and in our denomination - are deciding that now is a good time to return to the building. We can see in, we can peep through the door....but we are not ready.
There are various reason; not gathering large groups, knowing that there's all sorts of stuff we won't be able to do (sing, share coffee, share communion as we are used to, sit in our normal positions.....) knowing there are all sorts of things we will need to do (keep distance, queue up to get in and out, wear masks - put the preacher behind a screen!) and above all, knowing that even if we do open up, there are quite a few of our fellowship who are not able to come. Even being together in the building, we would not be together, for many of us would not be there.
It's had, but it's not permanent, and it feels right for just now....
And it is both a significant opportunity and illustration of our commitment to inclusivity. While we cannot all meet, we are choosing not to meet....
And when we do start to meet in the building again - who will not be there? And what might we do about that?
July 29 2020
It started in one of our zoom discussion groups. One of our esteemed members passed on the conviction of a family member that there would be no wars, no arguments, no distress, if people just eat chocolate buttons. The argument is that, when eating such delicacies, one feels so good, that there is no desire for all the anger, frustration and conflict that causes so many of our problems.
Later that day, bags of choc buttons appeared on various doorsteps...the beginning, we were told, of the revolution.
We have been enjoying these chocolate buttons.
It is not, sadly, the complete coming of the Kingdom.
But it is the beginning of the revolution - because it made people smile, and reassured us that love is present and active.
Of such is the kingdom built....of small actions that bring joy and hope, assure people of the presence of love, make the world sweeter.... - and that might lead to bigger things we haven't thought of yet!
And since then, as well as eating chocolate and smiling, I find myself regularly wondering what might I do today that is part of this revolution, this coming Kingdom....
July 22 2020
I have seen the word "apocalyptic" applied to our current situation several times now...and it always makes me want to say "I don't think that word means what you think it means"! It tends to be used to mean catastrophic, unmanageable, terrifying and overwhelming - all which are words that might well apply to our current situation, and are descriptions that might be used of some of the so-called "apocalyptic scenarios" that can be painted if we read the Scriptures in certain ways.
But the word itself means "uncovering" - showing what is hidden and therefore the truth of a situation that might otherwise not be making sense. Thus, the Book of the Apocalypse - Revelation at the end of the Bible - is so-called because it is the attempt, through imagery and imagination to uncover the truth that, even when the church is threatened and facing persecution, even when history seems out of control, still the purposes of God are being and will be fulfilled. Thus, it is not necessarily about disaster....
Nevertheless, even if the word is, for a linguistic pedant like me (it is rumoured that my first full sentence was "don't be pedantic"!) being misused, still, I think it may be an apt one for the times we are going through....
For much is being uncovered - and it is not a pretty sight.
The impact of the lack of funding for our health service, for example - and the lack of preparation, which meant that PPE was not available. And people died as a result.
The inequalities in our society, which have meant that minority communities have been hardest hit by the virus, and have had the least resource to combat it.
The split between haves and have-nots in terms of technology, which has become evident when children have been required to learn online - and some have not had the necessary equipment, or good enough access to internet. And this is a division that has shown up in our churches as well, to our shame.
The fragility of much of our economic base and the lack of resource to cope with "a rainy day" which we see reflected in the huge increase in the use of the foodbanks.
The sense of entitlement among some in power, which has resulted in the blatant disregard of guidance that others were supposed to abide by, and the assumption that such guidelines did not apply to them - the uncovering of ways in which some folk regard others...
Other things have been uncovered too, bringing joy and hope.
Kindness that reached out across garden walls and on staircases, as shopping was done, for many many weeks, for those who could not easily get out.
Commitment to care, as people have stayed in touch through all sorts of means.
Phenomenal dedication to duty of care workers, medical staff of all sorts, teachers, delivery drivers, post-people, shop workers and so many others.
Creativity, as people found ways to help and support - and as those whose "work" is creativity, in the arts, making shows, music, images available when we couldn't go out.
Energy and determination of parents supporting children through no school, and still learning - and of children to care for parents, unable to get out and about.
And I am sure you could add more - to both lists.
This truly has been an apocalyptic time. Pray God we don't lose sight of anything that we have seen during it.
July 15 2020
On the making and remaking of plans....it depends on how you look at it...
When I wrote last week, we were looking forward to a "visit" at our Sunday service from somebody who runs a support service we are committed to. Sadly, ill-health intervened, and the visit has been postponed. We had enough notice to plan something else, and though it was a bit rough round the edges, it took us in the right direction.
Yesterday, I was due to have a meeting that has been postponed quite appropriately because things that must be dealt with now had come up, and this morning a gathering was also postponed, also for the very excellent reason that one of the members was enjoying time with grandchildren after a long lockdown separation.
Tonight, we have a get-together to think about how we might begin to think about going back into our building...and what plans we might need to make, and what plans we are unmaking, of things we would normally be doing.
The making of plans is important - without some thought about it, we wouldn't do things together, because we would know what each other was doing and we wouldn't be able to coincide.
It is also helpful because it ensures that things that need to be done get done - they are planned in, booked and then happen; I have a list of things that need done each week, and I plan when I am going to do them, especially the boring adminy ones that I would willingly ignore.
But then life happens - as we have become all too aware over the last months. Circumstances we couldn't plan for, events that we didn't expect.
There is anxiety in this. Not knowing what is going to happen, trying hard to make it make sense, wondering how best to sort out what needs to happen and how to ensure it does when everything keeps shifting - to say nothing of the disappointment of plans that we were looking forward to being unfulfilled, and events that shape our lives not taking place.
So - as well as getting frustrated and anxious about changes of plans, I am trying to practice open expectation - if not this, then what? If not what I had planned, then what can I respond to? And if I am not in control, then what does that mean for my faith, my willingness to trust, my capacity to live what I preach?
The answers are not always easy.
But, I am daring to believe that in and through the trusting, I might discover more of who God is and how God acts - and so be more able and flexible in my responding to the call of the Kingdom.
July 8 2020
Keeping up with the news of friends
More keeping touch...this Sunday, we are looking forward to hearing from Ed Leavy, who heads up the Loaves and Fishes project in Stockport. We have had various links with this over the years, and we have been looking forward to Ed coming to be with us. This was arranged before lockdown, so we are grateful that he is able to join in over zoom.
When Jesus was preaching that series of images, instructions, stories and insights that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he used a series of striking descriptions of the nature of the Kingdom of God; we call them the Beatitudes. He spoke of those who were blessed - and it wasn't where the blessing was expected!
There has been much discussion among the scholars - and indeed the preachers - about what these sayings mean. And like all wonderful poetry and visions of a deeper, broader, fuller life, the words go on and on revealing meaning and taking us further.
As we hear them, as it were "up against" the work done by Loaves and Fishes and other similar agencies and projects, we hear something that, if we are prepared to listen to it, is truly revolutionary. In a world - Jesus' world than and our world now - in which blessing, the goodness of life, the way life is supposed to be is located in security, in stability, in being the ones who are resourced and able to share, these words suggest to us that the place we will see the kingdom most clearly is among those who are poor, who are mourning, who are unable to assert themselves.
It is not so much that being in these categories means that people are closer to God or somehow more "holy". Rather it is that the Kingdom of God shows up, not in the places of power, security or even goodness expressed in generosity and care -instead, the Kingdom shows up in precisely those places where that isn't the case.
So if we are seeking God - and seeking to be where God is and doing what God is doing, then it is in being n such places and getting involved in whatever way we can that we are sharing in the coming Kingdom.
And if you want to know more about this expression of the Kingdom, here is the link to the website.
July 1 2020
Staying in touch
One of the things that has become very important during the last months has been finding ways to stay in touch with one another...phone calls, facetime, zoom, emails - even old fashioned snailmail letters in envelopes.
I have found myself writing to people I have had little contact with for several years, but who have been very important to me at various points in my life. I have been renewing neglected relationships, and have been touched by those who have made the effort to get in touch with me.
It has also been a time of making new contacts; people I have only known slightly have become people I am in touch with frequently, not simply because we need to be in touch over particular issues, but because the contact itself matters.
We have renewed previous friendships as a congregation; it has been a delight to welcome "back" folk who have moved away and usually worship elsewhere, or who for other reasons no longer attended worship in the building, but who are currently visiting our "zoom" service.
And we have made new friends - in particular, the congregation at Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte, Nth Carolina. Through the wonder of zoom and youtube, we have been able to share news and stories, so that we now feel as if we are "getting to know" each other. Emails have been exchanged, stories have been shared, and we are looking for more ways to make this more than a nodding acquaintance.
Things are gradually looking like they will eventually move to a new normal, instead of this limbo lockdown. I wonder if we will be able to maintain the links and contacts that we have developed. I really hope so. Just before lockdown started, our Churches Together digital group (we are developing the online presence!) was thinking together about how to use our online outreach as a way of helping people make links and strengthen connections, especially in the light of the increasing recognition of the impact of loneliness on the lives of so many people.
That loneliness will have increased, I suspect, through this lockdown experience.
How might we take the practice we have had in making and sustaining contact - and even making new friends, as we have with the folk at Sardis - and translate it into an act of service and community in our neighbourhood?
June 24 2020
Permitted, not required...
We will be opening our doors again. This is good news.
And it is also news requiring wisdom and discernment. The apostle Paul once told a church "it's permissible - but it may not be the best thing you could do".
And opening our church building comes into a similar category. We are now permitted to open up (or at least, we will be from July 4th)
But what is the best thing to do?
Before we do, we need to get various things in place; physical protections, like sanitisers and the right placing for the seats; planning things, like making sure we know how to get in and out of the building safely; emotional things, such as are we feeling ready to do this, and how best to do it so that as many people as possible feel secure and as little anxiety as possible,
This has been a difficult time.
And ending our seclusion will have its demands too.
So, we are going, with prayer and love for one another, to do it as well as we can. If we are too slow for you, I am sorry, but please bear with us; we are not delaying for the sake of it. If we are too fast for you, I am sorry, and please tell us how we can helo you feel more secure,
And if, by some mercy and miracle, we get it right - Thank the Lord - and the skilled people who are part of this community and are putting a lot of energy into working out a way forward.
June 17 2020
It's turning into a habit...
Just in case you can't tell, it's a photo of a car boot full of groceries and sundries....donations to the foodbank. Each Saturday morning, we hang around the church car park for an hour (11-noon) and people come and put bags of stuff into the cr boots. Then our two wonderful volunteers drive them to the central depot, and over the next week, these gifts are shared out among those who would otherwise struggle to feed themselves and their families.
It's a wonderful demonstration of mutual care and imaginative response to need. I am delighted that our involvement with Chelwood Foodbank Plus, which goes back over a long period has taken on this form at the moment when things are a little more complicated than we would like - and, more significantly, when foodbank use is up so considerably.
The gifts come from all sorts of people - and some new givers, which is wonderful.
And yes - it is turning into a habit (one, by the way, that I hope we will find ways of continuing to support as the new normal, whatever that looks like, emerges) It is turning into a habit of care, of giving, of noticing the "other" - the hidden needs of our comunity....and such a habit of giving and encountering can only be good.
But! I have a discomfort too, for all that I think this is wonderful.
It shouldn't be necessary.
We should not have people needing to depend on this kind of charity, in a country that is as rich as ours, and in a community that has access to so many resources as we do.
So, I am wondering if there is another habit underlying this need, that we actually need to break....the habit of letting people fall into poverty without a way out, the habit of expecting that some folk will always be on the edge of coping, so that when disaster strikes, as now, they will fall over that edge, the habit of ignoring need until it becomes this obvious.
These are habits we have the chance the challenge now, as we begin to discover a new normal - but what new habits might we put in their place?
June 10 2020
Making new friends...and missing old ones
Last Sunday, we shared a video from members of Sardis Baptist Church, in Charlotte, Nth Carolina, as they introduced themselves to us, and shared a little of what they face in these days.
This morning, several of us made an equivalent to send for them to meet us.
As well as being utterly delighted that there is the tech to allow this to happen (the Apostle had to write letters!), and being really encouraged at what people have said and at the chance to make such a link, my only regret was that we couldn't have the full congregation as part of the conversation.
For, if we are going to give anything like a full view of ourselves, then all voices need to be heard - and in particular the ones that are usually quiet.
I've been thinking a lot about inclusivity this week...it is a central theme of the service I am currently preparing for Sunday. And while the importance of listening to voices we don't usually hear is going to be central to what I want to reflect on, I have also been thinking about how significant our practice of church meeting is....the opportunity for us all to hear each other.
Of all the things we are missing at the moment, I have a feeling that this might be one of the ones with significant long-term results.
Bring back Church Meeting....
June 3 2020
What can we say?
It has been impossible - and indeed, inappropriate - to remain ignorant of the events in the USA this week; the fear, the anger, the violence, the desire to protest peacefully for most, the sense of a community torn apart.
And we might feel that, even if we've got our problems, yet, we're not that bad.
Well - I'm not sure that's much to say.
In a week when a report has come out, after much delay, in itself an issue!, that shows just how much more vulnerable those form Black and Minority Ethnic people have been to the impact of Coronavirus and Covid 19 in the UK, I don't think we've got much to boast about. (Report here and BBC report on it here ) And it should take only a cursory glance at our history(though, sadly, we sometimes have to look much harder than we should) to know that our story and our current context is also distorted by racism and people's lives are being damaged and undermined by this sin.
So, if we can't say "we're not as bad as ...." what can we say.
I acknowledge that I am one of the privileged ones who need to get to grips with that. As a well-off, educated, white woman, I don't think I have a lot to say - or rather, mine is not one of the voices that needs to be heard.
But that doesn't give me the right to stay silent; silence is complicity. It's saying "this is not my problem" - and I rather think it is.
So, I do have a couple of things to say.
Firstly, sorry. Sorry for the times when, without realising it, I have been complicit in racism and the demeaning of my sisters and brothers - and for when I have simply not noticed it has been happening.
Secondly, I want to learn. I've stopped saying "teach me" because that still makes it "somebody else's problem" - somebody else has to take the reponsibility for delaing with my ignorance. But I am saying that I want to learn and I am going to try to.
Which of course means I am going to read - and that can be challenging, but still safe.
So thirdly, I am going to say that I want to listen to voices I don't usually hear - not just through my preferred medium (because then I exercise some control) of books, but in the interviews I usually tune out because thay are too painful, the plays and documentaries I avoid because they will not leave me feeling cosy, and - maybe - face to face with real people. (And here are some links... - from Kate Coleman, one of our previous BU Presidents here and from Yinka Oyekan, our current BU President here, and helpful podcast here )
And then, maybe, I will be able to move on to saying my fourth thing, which will, please God, be - this is what I am going to do.....
May 27 2020
Thy Kingdom Come
We are just over half-way through the churches' united project of prayer, Thy Kingdom Come. If you want to know more about it, then check here Thy Kingdom Come
There is something very powerful about churches praying together; it is part of our common ground. Even when we disagree about what minister are, and what we are doing when we come to the Table, about how to organise ourselves to take decisions, and what our role should be with regard to the government of the country, we are all convinced that prayer matters, and that somehow, in ways we cannot always express very wll, that the pracice of prayer is foundational to being church....
We agree, and we also all agree, even if we don;t say it, that prayer is weird, hard, and our observance of it is more aspirational than actial.
But still somehow it keeps drawing us. And one of the really helpful things about joint initiatives like this is that we don't have to generate anything - we get to join in. And it is not all dependent on us; other people are also taking part, and so we are not "responsible" for it all.
A bit like the coming Kingdom really - it is God's action that we get to join in with, and it is God;s responsiblity, not ours.
And there, right there, is one of the truths about prayer and about why it is important; that as we pray, we are reminded of this truth - that our prayer is at heart "Thy Kkngdom Come".....that's our prayer is about joining in with what God is already doing, and remembering that this is God's business, God's responsibility, and God's world....and so we are set free to join in joyfully, without having to make it all happen.
Churches Together in Cheadle Hulme are having a particular joint focus on Saturday 10-11am...there will be a zoom-room for prayer. If you would lke to share in it, please contact us for the link
May 20 2020
Mental Health Awareness Week
This is Mental Health Awareness Week - an important time in any year, but at this time of lockdown, doubly so. For lockdown can make things so much worse; not just the obvious ones like depression and anxiety, but the more unsual issues, which give scary names to, like psychosis and PTSD, schizophrenia and OCD...all of them disorders that mean that the world is a threatning place and the struggle to survivev and flourish is real.
For many with a wide variety of disruptions to good mental health, the loss of contact to an everyday structure and to a support system that has often been built up slowly and with great care can be deeply disorientating and unnerving.
Isolation can also make this very hard to bear.
So, if you are struggling, I hope that you can find somebody to support you; there are helplines and support services that are still working, and they offer huge resources.
If you know of somebody who is struggling, please don;t ignore them - get in touch, offer to help them make contact with support if that is needed, and encourage and befriend.
And for the rest of us, who don't struggle with such deep-seated disorders, keeping good mental fitness is just as important as our physical health. Good sleep, good exercise, a healthy rhythm to life, preferably with sometthing satisfying to do for at leastt part of th time and sustaining contact with others as much as we can - all of these are vital parts of our proper self-care.
Abd so also is the recognition that this is a tough time, and that, in the words of one of the slogans this week "it's ok not to be ok". We don't have to do everything, achieve wonders, be perfect and feel on top of the world all the time. We don't even have to be brave and convince everybody that life is fine. We can dare to entrust ourselves to others in our distress as well as in our strength.
And somewhere, somehow, if we dare to trust it, underneath are the everlasting arms.
And you know what - if it doesn't feel like it or you don't believe it right at the moment - that's ok too.
May 13 2020
Since we had to close the building, because of the pandemic lockdown, we have managed to have gatherings for at least some of us using Zoom. And others have listened in through a recording made available on souncloud....
It does raise some questions we will need to address in due course about inclusion. But for the moment, we are grateful for what we can do - and I am immensely grateful to all those who, although a little wary of the modern technology, have had a go, and for the most part, have made it work.
I am very grateful in particular for the patience when it hasn't all gone to plan, when things that should be simple turn out to be very complicated indeed, and for people's willingness to go on trying until something can be made to work.
Truly, as Simon wrote on his facebook post Church closed - no way! we are still active, worshipping and serving.
And that couldn't be happening without everybody taking risks, trying something new, and giving it a go! Because that is what we do. Resurrection is about discovering a life we didn't know about, and living it - even when we don't quite know what we are doing, even when we get it wrong, even when it is very clumsy and awkward and doesn't feel natural....
So, this is by way of being a thank you to everybody who is engaging in whatever way, so that while we cannot go into our building - and while some of us can't even live the building we inhabit - yet still, the church of God is present, active and alive.
May 6th 2020
Christian Aid Week
We are just coming up to the week that each year is marked as Christian Aid week; a time when this wonderful organisation makes an extra push on publicity and fundraising. The work that they do goes on all the time, and indeed the fundraising goes on all the time. But this is the week that is the focus for reaching out beyond the immediate constituency.
And of course, this year, it's going to be hard.
All charities are struggling, as are businesses and so much of the world we take for granted.
But even more, people who are living in extreme poverty, without basics of sanitation or shelter are in especial need.
This is what Christian Aid has written about the impact of Coronavirus
The coronavirus threatens the health of our neighbours near and far. Together, we must respond to help the most vulnerable.
Coronavirus has shown us that our futures are bound together even more tightly than before.
Now it is spreading across the world's poorest countries, putting people living in poverty at great risk.
These people are already facing a lack of food, water and healthcare. Some are homeless. Some are living with underlying health issues such as HIV.
As coronavirus infection rates speed up, they will feel the impacts of the virus deeply. We must respond now.
Coronavirus impacts all of us.
But love unites us all.
We are working to limit the impact of coronavirus in some of the most vulnerable communities around the world.
We are drawing on our experience from the Ebola crisis and helping communities prevent and delay infection.
We are providing essential soap, water and handwashing training.
We are ensuring that essential health messages get through to help people stay safe.
We are working through our networks of church partners and faith-based organisations to reach the most vulnerable at this time.
With your help we can do even more.
We would normally have a big brekky together on this coming Sunday as a way of raising both awareness and money - and guess what? We are doing it virtually this year, thanks to a creative member of the congregation. (Message me for details). But if you can't join us, and still want to give, here is the link...Donate to Christian Aid
This work really matters. I hope you can find a way to support it.
April 29 2020
You may not have been able to be in the church grounds recently, but this is just one tiny part of the border. The life in the garden is breaking out all over (and we are very grateful to those who weed, water, hoe, mow and generally take care of the place; it really is looking terrific)
Sadly, I'm not a good enough photographer to show you the full beauty (and the sun isn't out!) But I wanted poeple to see the life that is here, even if we can't be.
When I was teaching, one the "field trips" in which I used to take a class if at all possible, was to the town of Tewkesbury. One of the oldest surviving Baptist Chapels is there - down a lane, looking exactly like the cottages around it form the outside. Inside, it is a bare room with a pulpit, a table, a baptistry under the floor and a large wooden chest that would have been the place where offerings, especially for the poor in the congregation, as well as important papers, would have been looked after.
I used to love to take students there as a way of understanding something of Baptist history and identity. This chapel is not far at all form Tewkesbury Abbey, a wonderful, beautiful ancient church, in which Christian worship on a daily basis is still maintained.
One of the observations we regularly made when visiting and comparing the two buildings was that, without a congregation, the chapel was simply an empty space. Whereas the Abbey has a sense of presence and worship in its architecture and decoration. Similarly, because a liturgy is used in the Abbey, if we went in, whether we took part or not, worship happened. Whereas, unless those in the chapel building exerted their capacity for worship, nothing was going on in any obvious way. It was a really helpful illustration of Baptist understanding of church as located not in the clergy or the hierarchy, but in the gathering of the community, meeting there and then in the name of Christ to worship and listen.
I've been thinking a lot about this while we can't "gather". We are "meeting" in various ways - through email, on the phone, by soundcloud and zoom. And I believe we are still church. After all, we are very clear that church is the people, not the building.
But the building has a place in our identity - it allows us to gather, and it symbolises our gathering. We don't "need it" any more than we "need" the flowers in the garden.
But just as the flowers are a delight in themselves and a joyful sign of life and flourishing, so our building is a good place to be, and sign of our community and our service to the neighbourhood.
So - I am missing seeing people in the building. I am thrilled at the technology thar allows us to go on making and sustaining connections - and so thankful that people are willing to experiment and try and use this stuff.
And I am hugely grateful to those who are caring for the building and the grounds, so that when we can reinhabit it, it is there and waiting for us.
April 22 2020
You may well have seen our encouragement to give to the Foodbank via direct donations through their website, and if you are doing that, thank you so much. (If you're not, and would like to help that way, here is the link http://www.chelwoodfoodbankplus.org/donate/)
But sometimes, it is more straightforward to give donations of tins or packets.
The Methodist Church in Cheadle Hulme has been doing a collection in their car park on Tuesdays from 11-12 each week, and it is proved very popular, with lots of people who don't otherwise have a connection, finding this a good way to help.
So good indeed, that it is going to be extended!
Tuesdays don't suit everybody, and that part of the town is not on everybody's journey. So, starting from May 2nd (that is, in a week and half's time) we are going to be doing a similar collection in the car park at GLBC. I will be there in the car, with the boot open, so that people can put things directly in there, and then, in due course, I will deliver the donations to the Foodbank.
If you want to give this way, come and wave at me in the car park and drop of your donation - and please, tell others who might not have a church connection and so might not hear about it otherwise, and who want to help.
Our foodbanks are under great pressure at the moment, so anything we can do to help is important.
And thank you to whoever decided we should have a car park....it means we can do this!
April 11 2020
Holy Saturday. Staying at home Ramble
Hands that care.
At the end of the events on the cross, the story tells us that Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus' body and laid it in a new tomb. They wrapped it, and there seems to have been some anointing, though not the full amount, since we also read that the women waited until after the Sabbath to go and bring the spices for the burial.
It is a story of heartbreak and the loss of hope; the end of dreams and hopes.
And a story of care. Of care for one who could no longer appreciate it, who was no longer aware of it, who did not know about it and in many senses did not need it. And yet it was given and that seems right and proper.
And presumably, as the story moves on, and we read of resurrection, and meetings and encounters that were never expected, there would have been some recognition of the care offered - and received.
At right here, right now, we know of people offering care - sometimes directly to people's bodies, and often in other, wider ways, by delivering, by transporting, by serving in shops and writing letters, and keeping things going an enabling people to stay safe....
Care offered in contexts that are filled with hope, and in situations that seem hopeless, and where what is offered might be judged meaningless.
But this story is the assurance that care offered is never without point.
And that even the most hopeless of stories is not over yet.
Holy Saturday is a tough day at the best of times - and this is not the best of times.
But it is a year in which Holy Saturday has gained an even deeper meaning. For today we can give thanks for - and recognise the meaning of - the care that is offered. For truly it is all caught up into this story of redemption and resurrection.
April 10 2020
Good Friday. Staying at home Ramble
Today, he who hung the earth upon the waters
is hung upon the cross;
he who is the King of the angels
is arrayed in a crown of thorns;
he who wraps the heavens in clouds
is wrapped the purple of mockery;
the Bridegroom of the church
is transfixed by nails;
the Son of the Virgin
is pierced with a spear;
we venerate your Passion O Christ,
show us also your glorious resurrection.
April 9 2020
Thursday of Holy Week. Staying at home Ramble
Three of the gospel tellings of the last days of Jesus life have a meal shared with friends in which a pattern of sharing bread and wine is started and has been imitated ever since.
John's gospel instead tells a story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. You can read it at John 13;1-20.
In the story of the supper, Jesus says "do this in remembrance of me" and that has been understood as an instruction to carry on sharing bread and wine and telling the story, and so encountering Jesus.
In the story about footwashing, Jesus says "if I have done this for you, you should also do it for each other."
Which seems a pretty clear instruction.
Some Christian traditions practice a highly ritualised form of foot washing on Maundy Thursday - the Pope washes people's feet (the current Pope scandalised some a few year ago by the people whose feet he chose to wash - not all men, not all Christian....horror!) IN many Anglican churches - and quite a few others, - this night (in normal years) will have a foot washing ceremony included in the Maundy Thursday service. There are a few denominations who di it in a less formalised way - Moravians, Mennonites, some forms of Baptists and Pentecostalists, especially in the USA.
But it has never gained the place in regular and consisted Christian worship that sharing bread and wine has.
I wonder why?
Is it simply cultural - washing of feet is not a common practice, as it was for Jesus (the difference was in who did it in this story in John - that is, not the slave, but the "Lord and Teacher"); we do not live in a context or climate where this would be appropriate?
Which leaves a question of what would be the appropriate way of doing the equivalent?
Is there something we resist in the humility of it - both as washer and as washee…?
Is there something about the physical intimacy?
Is there something about the basicness of it...?
What do you think?
What would it do to our community to do this - or something like this?
April 8 2020
Wednesday of Holy Week. Staying at home Ramble
The story of Judas is another that is in all the gospel tellings; Matt 26 tells of the plan and the carrying out of it, as does Mark 14 and Luke 22. John records the planning in chapter 13 - and shows Jesus knowing about it, and then the carrying out of it in chapter 18. Again, there are many similarities, and some important differences in the ways the story is told...have a look and see what you make of them.
Judas has been the archetypal traitor and false friend through the history of the church; the one who stood in for all the failures and betrayals and was blamed as wicked and evil. In more recent years, there has been a kind of rehabilitation...an attempt to understand his motivation. Presented in some of the gospel sgtories as greed, it is also now suggested that perhaps he was trying to precipitate a sort of crisis in which Jesus would be forced to play the role that Judas thought he should as a revolutionary and political leader....the fact is, we cannot know his motivation. And if we're truthful, there are enough times when we cannot understand our own motivations, let alone anybody else's
So, perhaps one of the things we can explore in this story is the tendency to ascribe motivation where we cannot ever know it - and the dangers of blame, of shaming, of making assumptions that that can lead us into.
It is alos intriguing to see Jesus reaction to Judas. He speaks of "woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed". What sort of tone of voice do you think that he uses for this - angry, blaming - or might it be compassionate? A recognition, even acceptance of the choice that Judas has made, and a sadness, not simply at the consequence for himself, but also the consequence for Judas.
What would it feel like to see such compassion directed towards us as we acknowledge the mistakes, the wrong choices, the betrayals of the Lord? What difference would it make id we could offer that compassion to ourselves and each other?
April 7 2020
Tuesday of Holy Week. Staying at home Ramble
Anointing Jesus' Feet.
This is also a story that appears in all the gospels, again, in different forms - or is it different stories? In John 12 , just before the procession in to Jerusalem, we read about Mary, sister of Lazarus, pouring perfumed oil on Jesus feet and being challenged that the amount of wealth so lavished could have fed the poor. In Matt 26 and Mark 14, the same question is asked of another woman in a different house, who does the same thing. They both put it just before the betrayal by Judas. In Luke's telling, much earlier in the story (chap 7) a woman anoints Jesus - but the question asked is of her morality and Jesus' wisdom and judgement.
One or two stories, one or two women, lots of people involved, or one event told in different ways with different meanings....? Have a read of the different stories and see what you think.
But at the heart of it all, somebody offering a gift of great price to Jesus.
In a time without savings banks, and when women might be very vulnerable if there was no man to look after them, storing wealth in things rather than money was a way of being safe. Often, just such a bottle of ointment, perfume, would be a woman's way of bringing wealth into a marriage...it was her savings account, her dowry; and her protection if she were left alone without support.
And she/they pour it over Jesus.
This isn't just a beautiful and extravagant gift; it is the sacrifice of her security, her pension plan or protection, her safety.
As we read this in a context where hoarding a real issue, filing the cupboards an emotional "requirement" to feel ok, and in a context where there is much anxiety about how people are using wealth, sharing resources - what afre the questions that occur to you?
And is there something you might do, or might do differently if you spend time in this woman's company. What might she say to you? What might you say to her?
April 6 2020
Monday of Holy Week. Staying at home Ramble
Cleansing the Temple
A story that appears in different places in the different gospels, but appears in them all. (Read it at Matt 21;12-13, Mark 11;15-19, Luke 19;45-48, John 2;13-21. If you have time to read all 4, what are the similarities and differents that you see?)
There is a common thread through all the tellings; Jesus' anger that people are being stopped from approaching God. People had travelled from long distances, but Temple Tax could only be paid in the local currency - hence the money changers. People couldn't bring their sacrifices with them, and anyway it had to be approved animals. Hence the animal sellers.
Those who were coming to worship had to negotiate the barriers put in place by those who were economically and socially.
Here is the source of Jesus' anger....that those who wish to worship are being prevented.
As we are exploring new ways of worshipping and enabling others to worship, here is an important area for reflection - what do we do that stops others from worshipping....?
How might Jesus react to actions, attitudes, assumptions that we make that shut others out, however unintentionally?
April 1 2020
Stay at Home Rambling
It is hard to ramble when one is confined to the house and garden...but we do the best we can.
Not being able to get out and about, and in particular, not being able to go to places of worship and devotion is a hard thing to come to terms with, but it is not unusual in the history of the church.In a generation in which pilgrimage was much more important and much more widespread than it is now, it often formed an important part of people's faith, and the expression of devotion, and indeed, the offering of prayer. But not everybody had the time, resources, health or freedom to make journeys that took them away from home (and sometimes family) for months at a time.
So, sometime in the 15th century, the Franciscans, who had care of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, which were often visited by pilgrims, wanting to trace the life, ministry and passion of Jesus, began to build small shrines, often on the way up to churches, to represent the various holy sites. These became a way for those who could not travel, yet to have the encouter, and the experience of visiting and remembering the story in more than words.
Gradually, these representations moved inside churches, and became known as the Stations of the Cross, and while they are accessed all year round, they often form a particular focus of devotion during Holy Week.(The picture above is one of the images used in a church in centrfal London - a set of paintings of which I became very fond when I lived near there.)
Stations of the Cross are not normally part of our tradition. And I am not exactly suggesting that we introduce them. But I am proposing that, during Holy Week which starts on Sunday with Palm Sunday, I will "ramble" around the stories of that last week of Jesus life, and see if, by suggesting sights, sounds, smells, voices, we might find ways of encountering these stories from within our own homes, in ways that might matter.
We can't get out and about. But we can still pray and reflect, and encouter ...I hope you might join me....
March 25 2020
The feast of the Annunciation; the power and possibility of "yes"
It's time to start getting ready for Christmas....
Well, maybe not, but today is the day when the Church at large commemorates the story of the angel telling Mary that there would be a child.
Now, there are all sorts of things to say about this story - most of which I am not going to touch on here.
All I want to do is notice one aspect of the story and two reflections on it...
Mary said yes.
It is the heart of the story really - whatever it is that happens, however this conception takes place, the point of this part of the story is that Mary says yes.
There is a long tradition of being grateful to Mary for saying yes, and that's a tradition I want to affirm. And today I want to expand it - and to express gratitude to all sorts of people for saying yes. In particular, for saying yes to things that look ridiculous, impossible, even shameful (as Mary's yes was) - and yet which change the world. And today, as we deal with what everybody tells me is unprecedented (I'm not convinced - but unprecedented in our time I'll allow!) to say thank you to those who say yes to serving, helping, taking risks, being there, going on being there...thanks seems too small, but without thanks nothing else gets said - things about proper equipment and proper pay, and on-going recongition, and no more of the nonsense about "unskilled labour"... So - a huge thank you to those who say yes.
And Mary said yes without knowing the consequences. The ultimate fulfilment of the promise is laid out; "he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end". But there's not a lot in the way of details, and the path to this goal is unclear, its demands and delights yet invisble. And Mary still says yes.
We are on journeys now that we do not know the end of.
Of course, that is always true, but it is more felt at the moment than it often is.
Can we trust and obey in the same way?
March 18 2020
On being the church
Some years ago I co-wrote a book with that title (a statement on the royalties came in the other day - 76cents!) I wrote it because it is something that matters deeply to me; that we don't just "go to church", we are church. It is one of the reasons that being minister of Grove Lane Baptist Church is such a huge privilege - people who are this church don't just "go", they "are".
But - it is true that we also "go" - we have a habit, like Christians down the ages, of meeting together on the first day of the week to worship, and to share friendship - and coffee. (I have no proof that the early believers did that, but....)
And now, for an as yet indeterminate number of weeks, we will not be able to do that.
It is a sad thing, and a difficult thing.
It is also the loving thing to do. We are stopping meeting in part for each one of us to look after our self. But, and this is equally important epidemiologically, we are stopping meeting in order that infection is not passed on - that is, in order to care for one another, and for our wider community, and, long-term, to do our bit to ensure that the health service is not overwhelmed and therefore those who are ill are cared for.
One of our members is in a care home, and we are not able to visit her at the moment. Not going to see her hurts. And it is an act of love towards her and the others; it is to prevent us bringing any virus into a vulnerable situation.
Loving our neighbour is a very practical act of care - even if it looks like withdrawal.
We are looking at other ways to "meet" - we've got all this online stuff; let's use it. We are looking into all sorts of ways of sharing care for the wider community, in particular the Foodbanks...they are going to be under great pressure, and we are finding creative ways to support them (watch this space). This, of course, is another form of loving our neighbour.
This Ramble may happen more often (you have been warned) and other news and interaction will take place on this site and on our other online places (facebook, twitter and soundcloud)
The first Christians when they started meeting had to invent ways to do it, because they were doing a new thing. They didn't start from scratch, however; they used what was around them - models from other religions, and other social structures. And they took them over, adapted and worked them out.
We are worshipping the same God, following the same Jesus, depending on the same Spirit. We are as creative, inventive, committed and blessed. As my training minister used to tell me "God is good and the world still turns". We may not be able to "go" but we have not ceased to "be" the church. And once we are able to "go" again, we will return having loved our neighbour and been loved by our neighbour in ways that we might not have expected, but which will have been blessing to us and others.
In the words of the dismissal blessing we regularly use at Quiet Communion at the moment "From where we are to where you need us, Jesus, still lead on"
March 11 2020
I wrote last week about the joy of watching a child smile, and the way in which that symbolises for me what we are about as a church; delighting in and sharing the discovery that we are beloved children of God, and that the universe is a friendly place.
And that is true, that is something I will go on believing and preaching.
But it is not the whole of the truth.
For there is also that in our lives, in our world which is resistant to God's goodness and the coming Kingdom. Whether we want to call it evil, brokenness, sin, hurt...
And as well as sharing in the delight of the young lady discovering the fun of being alive, I have also had the huge privilege over the last week of listening as people have told stories of horror, distress, anger, pain; their own stories, and the stories of the people they care for.
I had a discussion with a friend during the week about the difference between optimism and hope...and we came to the conclusion that optimism based on a rational assessment of the world (we are both optimistic that, as healthy and handwashing people, we will avoid the worst effects of Covid-19, and we have reason for that optimism) is a healthy and appropriate way of living. Optimism based, however, on "everybody is nice, and it'll all be fine" is hard to maintain and justify in the face of our current humanitarian and environmental disasters, - and can be very damaging, since it can mean we choose to do nothing, and just hope for the best.
Hope on the other hand, for believers, is the conviction that the love of God is bigger than the horror, the distress and the hurt.
It doesn't take them away. But it is not destroyed by them.
And as we listen to some of the stories that people can tell us - of the cruelty inflicted on children, or the experience of living with depression or cancer, or the horrors of , and as we live with the truth of our own lives - we cannot be optimistic. But we can dare to be hopeful.
Hope is not blind. Hope can name evil when it sees it, can cry with the pain of the world, can confront and acknowledge our own sin and failure. And can do it without being destroyed, not because we are strong enough, or can "rise above" the distress. But because we dare to believe that above, beyond, behind, beneath, is a Love that has not avoided or opted out of the encounter with such pain, but confronts it and will, in the end, redeem it.
Lent is our journey towards Easter - dare we let it be a journey that takes us through the whole story, including the difficult and painful bits. Because only then can we truly encounter the possibility that Easter Day holds out to us.
March 4 2020
The delight of a smile...
I arrived at Toddlers' Group this morning just as everybody was leaving (good timing Ruth!) but there was still some lunch-eating going on. The young lady who was eating/being fed her meal is a serious-minded person. Life is, according to her expression, real and life is earnest, and she regards it as such. I sat on the floor beside her and wondered at the patience of the loving carer who was feeding her - and persuading her to go on eating even when she wanted to stop.
Then this amazing person went off to find the next part of the meal, and my serious young lady and I were left regarding one another. There were several moments of serious mutual reflection. And then my eye was caught by some of the attachments to the chair in which she was sitting. Among other distractions offered, there were two teddy-bears which could be visible or hidden, at the flip of a button. So, I flipped them - the bears appeared. I flipped them again - and the bears disappeared. My companion looked at them, at me, and back at them.
And so I repeated the activity...and she began to join in. We carried on.
And then - a smile!
Indeed, a very beautiful smile.
And one that continued for several moments as she explored the flip that produced a teddy and the flip that hid it, and as I took a turn, and she took a turn, and the teddies carried on behaving as they should.
There are many things a minister gets to do - one of the huge privileges of being a minister is being invited into lots of huge moments in peoples's lives, sharing joy and sorrow and significance.
But I have to tell you - not much over the next few weeks is going to top seeing that smile appear.
Because at the heart of all of what I am about, and what the church is about is discovering and sharing the delight at the heart of the universe, being the beloved children of God. And that's what I saw in her smile...
Feb 26 2020
As a congregation, we agreed to write to our MP to ask her to urge the PM to make the COP26 (the conference on Climate Chaos, happening in Glasgow later this year) a place at which our country announces a deep and creative response to the climate emergency facing us.
The letter that we sent is, I believe, is powerfully and effectively phrased, and I am grateful to those who drafted it. The other image is the response of one of our members, sending his own plea (suitably edited in this image to remove name and address).
Both approaches are needed - and it is delight to be able to access them both.
We seek to be a prophetic community - those who speak truth to power, who challenge oppressive systems and ask difficult questions. And our models are the prophets of Scripture, who spent enough time in God;s presence to begin to discern God's calling, and who responded by making both a strong case to the people to whom they are sent, and by actions, creative snd subversive - artistic, indeed.
Thanks be to God, that we have people among us who can help us to do both, and we pray for our leaders and those with power, that they will hear this urgent call.
Feb 19 2020
Sharing bread and wine
This is the picture that goes on the front of our order of service when we have our Quiet Communion on the fourth Sunday of the month - drawn by our very own member, George.
We are, I think, quite unusual as a Baptist Church in sharing bread and wine at more services than not. We are also unusual in the openness of our Table; our invitation is to "all who wish to receive what is offered here" and we ask no more of people than that they want to be there. Our theology for this is that Jesus ate with everybody who invited him, or who was in the crowd.
It could look, therefore, as if this is something trivial and insignificant. One of the arguments I grew up hearing to justify why Baptists had communion less often than some (and why the Presbyterians around us had it even less frequently) was that this was something "so special" that to celebrate it too often would lower its importance and impact.
And an argument for keeping people away if they are not part of the church in whatever way we define that is that otherwise it becomes less of a special mark for believers.
Well, perhaps there is something in each of these positions - though I remain to be convinced.
But more importantly than these possibilities is, I suggest, the conviction that when we share bread and wine and tell the story of Jesus' invitation and - as Paul reminds us, - death and resurrection, we are encountering the embodiment of the love of God in Jesus, and that love was not rationed in case we begin to take it for granted, nor limited to those who were part of however the community defined itself.
It may be only a small piece of bread and small sip of wine (and there may be a good argument for suggesting we are more extravagant in what we take - especially when there is more than enough to go around!) but it is a sign and symbol of a love not afraid to be involved in every part of our lives, that doesn't keep itself "for best", for "special occasions" and also that doesn't insist on a certain way of being or belonging before loving us utterly.
So, I will gladly go on offering bread and wine to anybody who wishes to receive it. And I will gladly go on offering it as often as you will let me.
Thank you for the privilege of leading our congregation in this activity. It is one of the highspots of my week.
Feb 12 2020
Our 615ers group - the club for youngsters betwen 5 and 9 - have been raising money for Toilet Twinning. One of the club evenings towards the end of last year focussed on the need for toilets for health, well-being and dignity, and also on the lack in various places. Then the youngsters were asked to raise money towards putting up a toilet somewhere where it is needed. They were invited to give a bit of their pocket money, or do jobs to raise money, or to think about how else they could help fund this work.
This week was the end of the appeal. Over the last few weeks, they have brought in pennies and more - several parents have been extremely generous and given money of the folding sort!, but most of the money has come from the children. They have tidied rooms, set tables, washed dishes, cleaned cars. They have cajoled, and have given from their pocket money.
And they have raised £155.45!!
To twin a toilet costs £60. So, with a small donation from club funds, these youngsters have funded the building of two toilets in places where this is badly needed. And, along the way, they have learned something about the world, about hygiene and about the interconnectedness of the world.
We are so proud of them! Soon, the plaques, acknowlegdng their donation will be here, and they will be proudly displayed in the entrance to the church.
The other youth groups are just starting their fund raising efforts. We are looking forward to adding their plaques too in due course!
If you would like to know more about this work, please check the website here; https://www.toilettwinning.org/
Feb 5 2020
There was a party in the church on Sunday afternoon. I am guessing that one of the things that went on was the enjoyment of balloons. Because now, when we go in, we have the delight of several balloons (orange with black markings) lurking near the ceiling. There was an attempt to get them down on Monday evening, but they proved somewhat recalcitrant!
And why not leave them there? They will come down eventually, I am sure. But at the moment, they are a talking point. I know - I've been talking about them. We discussed them at 615ers on Monday evening. We talked about them at Toddlers Group and at Day Centre lunch today. And, I suspect, if they are still there on Sunday, we will talk about them then.
As one who is not gifted with small talk, I am all for talking points - reasons to speak, neutral topics to generate a conversation.
And these are delightful because they are unusual, and indeed, attractive.
All of which makes me wonder what is unusual, attractive, and a helpful talking point about us as a faith community, that might give us ways of introducing ourselves, or saying something about our identity as a church - and might give people the idea that here is something about being a faith community and here is a way of living that faith within which it is possible they could find a home.
Jan 29 2020
A prophetic community??