A Minister's Blog
May 11 2022
Several folk from the congrgation have been (and indeed are) in hospital over the last few days - and so on Monday, I went to visit.
It is over two years since I have been into visit in the local hospital (and the corridors have not got any easier to follow; I know, I am easily confiused, but I do get lost every time!!)
It was, as always, such a privilege to be able to catch up with folk, and to hear how they are doing.
And it was amazing to be able to do it, after such a long time. It was, I think, the clearest sign I've experienced of things going back to normal. Yes, there are still masks, and lots of hand sanitiser, and a few restrictions - but it just felt so ordinary.
I had a moment to stop in and see the chaplain as well.
A good and godly man, who has worked through the lockdown. He was telling me that throughout the whole time, the chaplains were in the hospital every day as usual, though they were not able to go on to the wards. They worked by phone, by offering coffee and space to those who wanted to come into the chapel, and just generally "being there". As he talked, I had another glimpse of that hidden world we have all shared and yet are still having to work to find the words for; when we tried to make sense of a weirdness we had no experience for, but had to cope with anyway!
The chaplains' ministry of "being there" or "being with" seems to me more and more the most effective form of service that not just chaplains, but all of us can offer. We don't necessarily have answers, or skills or resources to offer - but we have presence and welcome. We can open our building for people to feel at home in - playing, eating, learning.... We can offer friendship to those who come in, without needing anything back... We can meet people in the car park as they come to find ways to share with others, and support folk in a particular moment of need through the foodbank.....
We can be there - because, after all, that is what our faith is in; a God is "there"; God with us, Immanuel.
And as the world adapts to what it is now, rather than what it has been, when we don't have any more insight or skill than anybody else, we do have this; confidence in God's presence with us, which sustains our presence with and in the world we share.
May 5th 2022
Sometimes, life just happens.
I was all set to write the blog as usual yesterday (I have quite a regular routine on a Wednesday) - but then, stuff! Sometimes, things happen that get in the way and in the words of my national poet, the "best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley"; and my plans are rarely among the best-laid!
But stuff now being dealt with, there is time to do the stuff that didn't get done yesterday. Mind you, that now means that the stuff that is on the list for doing today is getting a little disrupted....hmm.
Actually, today has been rather lovely so far. Among the highlights has been visiting Thursday Day Centre, and sharing lunch there (sausages - yum!) and then taking the dog over the visit. As always, she was a wee star, and folk make such a fuss of her. In fact, I'm thinking of resigning my post, and letting the dog take over - she's so much better, especially pastorally, than I am.
And then I can get on with the bits of stuff that keep getting pushed out by life.
Seriously, it is one of the delights of the kind of work that I do that plans do often get derailed by "stuff", often to do with people; indeed, not just a delight, but a privilege.
I hope I will always be preserved from prioritising tasks over people, and ticking things off on a list over listening and being with whoever is around. That is an honour to be treasured.
Thank you for being the people I get to be with....
April 27 2022
Be careful what you ask for....
We have been short of leaders for our youth groups, and so one of our current leaders has creatively and - it turns out - effectively advertised on social media. The appeal was for leaders. The result has been more children - each group is now bigger than it was! This is not a bad thing; some of the groups were getting very small.
But more children present is - while clearly a blessing - also a challenge. This is not what we were expecting, nor indeed, what we planned for.
Which has its own questions that we will need to address in due course.
But it does also raise the interesting issue about what happens in our lives of faith when we are clear about what we need and want, and bring it with all faithfulness in prayer - only to find that the answer is not at all what we expect.....!
It is a very Easter theme. The two mourners walking to Emmaus knew exactly what they wanted and needed; "we had hoped that..." - and then the stranger, whom they didn't recognise, opened the story to them, and they discovered that while it was not what they were expecting or wanting, it was exactly right, as Jesus broke bread and they recognised him.
I would still really like some more leaders...but I am seeking the grace to see what we have been given, and to receive it as the gift it is!
April 13 2022
A chaotic Holy Week
I may not be the world's greatest planner, but even for me, Easter planning is running a bit late; the strike of a lurgy that laid me low for nearly two weeks has been evident in the time I have had to get things ready.
So, I am taking comfort in two reflections; if this week feels chaotic, so did the week that we are commemorating....there were arguments in the Temple, near riots in the street and quarrels among friends - and Jesus went through it all. So nothing in my disorgansation is anywhere near that.
And, as somebody wisely remarked a couple of years ago at this time, when all our plans were thrown into confusion; whatever I or we do or don;t do, Easter will still happen and Jesus is still risen.
In the end (or even, in the beginning!) it doesn't depend on me and my efforts. This is God's doing.
And it is wonderful in our eyes.
April 6 2022
On not sounding banal...
In the face of what is happening in Ukraine, and of the stories coming out about mass killings, and in the face of the amazing efforts being made to help those who are fleeing, it is hard to find words that are not trivial and trite.
And so, since prayer is always a refuge, today I simply want to repeat the prayer
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy!
Because it is a prayer that can never be said too often.
March 30 2022
It was so lovely last week, to be able to lay aside some of the heavier jackets, and enjoy the sunshine and the bright skies and the warmth....
And today, it as, as my native language would put it, gey driech! (Which being interpreted is "very grey, damp and miserable")
I know that no single weather event can be put down to the climate crisis that we are facing, but the extremes that are happening are reflected in such changes that we have seen these past few days. More significantly, there are crisis floods in Australia, droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, rising sea levels in the Pacific mean that some of the Solomon Islands have disappeared and people have lost their homes....
And recently we have had the news that temperatures at both the North and the South Poles are rising rapidly.
This is not something we can ignore, nor is it just a matter for the kind of conversation that Brits have always had about the weather.
If you want to know more about the issues and about how to get involved, you can see our Cheadle Climate Action website here
If you would like to be personally invovled, come and join our CCA group - our next meeting is on this coming Saturday. Wew are meeting on zoom, and I can let you have details.
Whatever you decide to do, thank you for taking care of our world.....
March 16 2022
Stories that encourage...
Tonight, we are welcoming our link BMS missionary, Judy Cook. She is based in Chiang Mai, and involved in caring for young people with complex needs. It is always a moment of encouragement to hear from her (she is amazingly faithful in keeping us all up to date with what is going on), and when we feel that the world is a harsh place without hope or change, hearing her stories - which are not prettied up - and realising the changes that can be made by constant, faithful presence and attention to what is in front of us...
And as we seek to find our own way through the anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion, to say nothing of a sense of powerlessness, hearing such stories give us courage - and stimulate our imagination about what we might do.
March 9th 2022
Lord, have mercy
As we watch the horrors, marvel at the care shown by strangers, feel frustration at our own government's apparent inability to match action to rhetoric and wonder what we can do, we cry out Lord. have mercy.
And if you want to give to offer care to those who have lost everything, here are links
March 2nd 2022
It's not a day we traditionally make much of, as Baptists. The practice of attending a service and having a cross marked on our foreheads with a smudge of ash has, on the whole, passed us by. And there are good historical, and maybe even theological, reasons for that.
But all the same, there are also good historical and theological reasons for attending to this tradition; a service once a year, at the beginning of Lent, which takes as its theme the importance of self-examination in the light of mortality (as the cross is marked on, using the words; "from dust you came, to dust you will return").
The emphasis, the reminder, is that if we are taking our self-examination seriously, if we are deeply and thoroughly reflecting on the meaning of our lives and the depth, integrity and faithfulness with which we are living, then recognising that our lives here are limited and constrained - by death, but also by other realities - is a way of helping us to be realistic both about our intentions and our achievements.
In a social context in which all so often we are told that limits to not apply, this is both a hard, and an important message to hear. Our young people are encouraged to believe that they can achieve anything - and there is wonder and freedom in that, for it removes artificial constraint (of gender, of ethnicity, of age, of social expectation).
But there can also be pressure - no matter how hard I try, or how much I believe I can, I was never going to be able to play rugby for my country. I do not have the ability. I cannot achieve it. Fortunately, it was not something I (really!) wanted to do...and so discovering I couldn't did not destroy a dream or shatter my self-worth. And in this I was greatly aided by sports teachers who were very realistic about my limitations!
The truth is, we cannot do everything, be everything, succeed in everything....there are limitations.
But that need not be a grief or a reason for giving up. For it is the boundary that gives an identity and a shape to something - including a life. If I have no boundaries, I have no sense of "self" and "other" - and so there is no possibilty of relationship, with all the joy that that can bring, there is no possibility of growth, discovery and delight that there are people who are not the same as me, and therefore I can learn about the world from their experience which is so different from mine.
To be aware of our boundaries, the limits of our selves - and that includes our mortality - heightens and enlivens the joy and delight of being alive as our own selves with our own story, which is not somebody else's. It also calls us (and this is important in Lent) to take seriously the privilege of our life, and explore what it means to live it well and fully and with our own calling, not shaped and determined by a second-hand vision.
From dust you have come, and to dust you will return - the dust of star and earth, shaped by and for love, and held for ever in a love that is absolute. So - in the words of Mary Oliver's poem "what will you do with your one wild and precious life?"
Feb 16 2022
The unseen delights of being a woman in ministry...
I have long hair. I usually wear it loose, and simply pinned back behind my ears. I do wear it up on occasions - at times when I need to appear particularly authoritative, and when I have not had time to wash it!
I wore it up on Sunday morning - because finding time to wash (and more to the point, dry!) it had proved beyond me this last week.
The delight has been that, although nobody has commented on the service, quite a lot of people have commented (favourably, thank goodness!) on my hair. This delights me - though, I must confess there would have been a time when I would have been irritated about it; why are such comments not made to the men?!? Now, I recognise it as a delightful comment recognising that my ministry is rooted in my humanity.
And that seems to me to be very important; not for my ministry in particular, but all our life in Christ, our lives as disciples. We are followers of Jesus as the people we are, not as some kind of disembodied spirits, nor as needing to conform to some kind of "ideal" humanity. We are each of us who we are, with our own identity, physical and emotional reality, our own strengths, weaknesses, delights and struggles - and all of these, all that we are is the way that we follow Jesus, discover what it means to be the image of God and explore being loved.
And as a church, as a congregation, significant to who we are and what we do is the intention and the practice of welcoming each and every one of us as we are, ways in which God is imaged to the world. (Even when we have't washed our hair!)
Feb 9 2022
Paying bills from a manse has a particular delight to it...in whose name is the account registered? Who is actually paying? And who is the householder?
We have just been trying to sort out one of our utility accounts (all safely done now) and trying to explain the set-up ...no, we don't own the house, no we don't rent the house, no, we are not living with parents....is manageable, but depends on good will on both sides of the conversation.
It is a helpful reminder that what we, within the manse, take for granted is not necessarily so obvious to others who don't live in a manse.
And a wider reminder for those of us within the church, that what we take for granted is not necessarily so obvious to those who are not part of the community.
In our reflection group today, at one point, we shared a story of somebody who had come to a service for the first time - and several times during the service asked questions, not quietly of a neighbour, but out loud of the person leading the service.
Good for her!
But how comfortable would we be if it happened among us?
And, even more significantly, what are the assumptions, practices and presuppositions that we take for granted, but which can sound just as weird to those who are not with us on a regular basis as do my attempts to explain what it means to live in a manse.
We can assume that everybody understands.
But maybe we shouldn't...
Feb 2 2022
Nobody knows what goes on inside.....
Well, those of us who go to things inside do, of course. But - does anybody else....?
I mean - it doesn't look much like a church, does it. And even if it did, and somebody doesn't regularly go to services, would they have any idea what they might face when they come in?
And do people have any notion of all the other stuff that goes on...building towers out of wooden skewers and marshmallows (this week's 615ers youth club!), eating wonderful fish pie (Day Centre), climbing up the slide and coming down head first (Toddlers' Group), enjoying Out of Africa (film night) or having a spirited discussion about The Hidden Beach (book group). Or what about sorting out donations for Wood St Mission (this morning's activity) or trying to find the space to dry a tent (after many many foodbank collection sessions in a rainy car park.
And then there's the meals (Harvest Supper, social evenings), the music (concerts, rehearsals), the meetings (challenging climate change, discussing the church's life, planning events, hearing about work in Thailand....and many others I've forgotten about!), the plotting and planning to make the tech work (thanks to those who spend hours in the building doing that), the ongoing minatenance of the bulding and the grounds (thank you to those who take care of that), the sorting out of finance and admin (thank you to all who do that).....and I am pretty sure I have forgotten some other stuff.....
And at the centre of it all - relationships, with one another, and through one another with the Centre of it all...
We have a great building and smashing grouds. We have wonderful things going on.
How can we let people know; for surely, if people knew, there would be those who would like to join in....
Answers on a postcard please. :)
Jan 25th 2022
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
This year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is just ending. Since 1908, the churches around the world have prayed for the unity of the Church.
And it does have to be said that during the 20thc and on into the 21st, there have been significant moves, in many countries, and across many national borders, towards a more common life. We could (but won't - this is not an academic piece of writing!) trace the various landmarks on the way during the last 120 years
But even without going into that level of detail, one thing that is worth noting is that for the last 30 or so years, in the UK at least, ecumenism has not exactly been a sexy topic. There is almost a sense that we've done well enough, we get along well, we do things togethere and recognise each other's integrity, and frankly, finding a way to survive in an increasing uninterested context takes our energy, and spending time discussing differences (that can seem very angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-pins-ish!) is a waste of time, energy and resources - and takes attention away from the stuff that really matters; serving our communties, and discerning a way forward in a world that doesn't seem to need us. There are discussions and publications at a level of theologians and of church leaders, but for those of us whose involvement is mainly in the local congregation, this is not top of our agenda.
I have a lot of sympathy with that view.
But...but, there is something about the vision of a church that is healed of its divisions that won't quite let me go; it is not simply that, together, we are better at what we do than when we try to do it separately. It is not simply that the communal use of resources has got to be better than us each doing our own thing with fewer resources. It is not even that in the face of declining numbers, it makes sense to work together.
Or rather, it is all of those things and something more - Jesus' words; "By this, eveyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" haunt me.
How will better relationships between denominations and congregations mean that others know we are followers of Jesus...?
I wonder if it has to do with living counter-culturally? In a world, a society which feels at the moment to be ever more divided and angry, what would love across, or in spite of difference look like? And what impact might it have? To be known as followers of Jesus is not neccesarily to convince people to join us....but it is to be identified with who Jesus is. And who Jesus is is the one who - because he insisted on loving across boundaries, including the outsider, breaking down barriers and challenging power strutures that were invested in protecting the status quo, was executed.
Loving one another, in order that who Jesus is might be seen may not be a pathway to increasing our impact, or convincing people to join us. It may be the path to death...
And I wonder if somewhere, our energy for ecumenism diminishes when we see, however dimly, that that might be where learning to love across the boundaries -really love, the way Jesus does - will lead us?
Dare we pray for such a way forward?
Jan 12 2022
A guest blog
Hello - I am Maizie, the Church Dog, and I wanted to tell you about things we have been doing. Here you can see me in front of the Christmas tree that we had up in the building - it's down now, and things look much less sparkly - which is sad - but there are not so many electrickery leads for me to avoid, which is good.
I like going into our church building because there is always something going on in there and it usually involves people - which I like - though sometimes it involves noise and the words "Maizie don't do that" which I don't like.
Sometimes, the people are sitting still and listening to one of my humans (and often other humns too) as they stand at the front and talk - which I like, because then I can see my human. But I have to sit still too, and can't run up and give kissylicks - which I don't like and is sad. I think that giving kissylicks to people who want them should be allowed all the time. But usually after the sitting-still time, I get to walk around and give lost of kissylicks and get lots of cuddles and I like that very much.
Sometimes, the people are sitting at tables and eating, and then I get to go in and give cuddles and get cuddles back, which I like a lot. Some of the people who come to eat find it hard to walk or to see, or sometimes to do anything, and that makes me sad - so I give very gentle cuddles, and that is a happy thing.
Sometimes the people in the building are running around and making lots of noise - these are usually little people, (the big people don'[t run around so very much! Though they do sometimes make a lot of noise) and they can get very excited when I go on; I don't to it too often because I'm not good at lots of noise - actually, that's not true; I am very good at making a lot of noise, but I don't like lots of noise around me.
The thing I like best in our building is that when I go in, people are pleased to see me, and make a fuss of me. I thought this was because I am special (which of course it is....), but as I have paid closer attention, I have discovered that being pleased to see those who come into the building is kind of what the building is for - seeing people who come in to sit and listen to my human, and other humans speak, being pleased to see the people who come in to eat, being pleased to see the people who come in to run around and make a noise - and being very very pleased to see the people who come in and make all this happen.
It is a building in which people are pleased to see each other.
That makes me happy.
It also makes me wonder why? So, I am going to keep going, and see if I can discover why everybody does the being-pleased-to-see people thing. I will do my discovering in between giving my own kind of welcome with kissylicks and tail wiggles.
If you're very lucky, I may report back again in a few months!
Jan 5 2022
Do they know it's still Christmas....
In some of the (online) circles in which I move, this is the time of year when there is heated and sometimes irritable debate about whether it is still Christmas, or whether the decorations should be taken down, the candles put out and the crib scene packed away. In liturgical terms, the answer is no, they shouldn't be - Christmas as a season in the church year continues until Epiphany, which is tomorrow. In some traditions, indeed, the liturgical season continues until Candlemas - the day that celebrates Jesus presentation in the Temple - which is February 2nd. In the rest of society, Christmas appears to be over - there is no more Christmas music on the radio, the decorations are being taken down, and the TV schedules are into a new pattern.....
But then there is this statement by Howard Thurman, an African American philospher, theologian and writer.
This seems to me to be of much more importance than the dates and calendar. Because whatever Christmas is about, it is not about finding an end of it, but living the meaning of it.
So, I am printing this out and it will appear on our notice boards outside the church from tomorrow - as a hat-tip to the end of the Christmas season - and even more, as a statement of what the Kingdom that we pray for is about, and our desire to be part of it.