A Minister's Blog
Jan 25 2023
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Today (Wed 25th) is officially the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, that season every year when we seek to pray that Jesus prayer thathis followers might be one is also our prayer.
It was the theme of our service on Sunday (If you missed it, you can hear a recording here; Service; Jan 22 2023), and on this coming Sunday, Jan 29th, we will be sharing in a united service for Churches Together in Cheadle Hulme...
But if this is all it means, then we might as well pat ourselves on the back and go home.
Jesus' prayer for the oneness of his followers was not just so that they could enjoy a sense of being among friends, but for a distinctive purpose. In John's gospel, where we read of Jesus praying that those who follow him will be united, he gives a reason too - "that the world may believe that you have sent me"....
It's not that this is a missionary strategy, as if, the more we look united, the more people will come into the churches (though, the more we are seen to reject, condemn and ignore one another, the more others will reject, condemn and ignore us; and quite rightly!). Rather it is surely that since a significant part of what we are hoping people will discover in and through us is the presence and action of a Love that is utter and absolute, then the more we are seen as separate and dwelling on our own disticntiveness, the less our words - and even actions - of and on behalf of - One whose love reaches beyond any barrier we can imagine or erect to find us will have any meaning.
Yes, there are differences between churches, and yes, they matter to us, and it is helpful to know them and understand what is behind them - but only so that we can put them in their proper place, and move on and in and up and through and with Love that does not eradicate difference, but embraces, celebrates and delights in diversity, richness and variety....
Jan 11 2023
Yesterday morning, for reasons I cannot fathom, I was locked out of my email. The system kept telling me my password was wrong. It wasn't! But of course, there is no way to convince a machine that it doesn't know best....all I knew was that I couldn't get in.
There is of course one way in which we remain in charge of most machines....I switched the computer off and on and started again and all was well.
But it was a fascinating - and salutary! - experience, to find myself kept out of a context where I wanted and needed to be, and from which there was no obvious reason, except a systemic one, why I should be excluded.
As we come to start thinking together in our church meeting about the shape of our future life, this issue of access is one we must not ignore. We are not so far removed yet from lockdown as to have forgotten the distress of being isolated, and the delight of being together. As we think about how we will structure our life - especially taking seriously our commitment to hybrid gatherings of various sorts, as well as what we will do with the building, this conviction about inclusion is one we must keep in front of each other. Please God we do not overlook the systemic reasons why people get shut out, simply because we don't notice them, because they are so familiar to us.
It hurts to be excluded....
Dec 22nd 2022
A good time was had by all....
Yesterday was the Day Centre Christmas Lunch - I hope the photos above will give a sense of the delight, pleasure and hard work...
It really was a lovely afternoon, and really, all I want to say in this blog is thank you - and in particular, thank you to Ann, who retired from Day Centre yesterday, having started in 1991.
That is some commitment!
We are so fortunate that there are amazing people who give time, energy, attention - and commitment - to doing this work. Let's not take it for granted, but remember just how important this is to our life together and our service to the neighbourhood.
Dec 15th 2022
I blog a lot about how thrilled I am when people are generous, and the amazeing gifts and giving that are part of our regular life as a congregation and community. And this photo is yet another example of this; this is the second of two trips to deliver hampers (there was a car load as well) - 76 in all, and a huge amount of giving and care went into this project.
Thank you all.
It is wonderful to be part of such a generous and practical community.
And of course, this is the time of year when there is a lot of this going on; toys for families that are struggling, food for when tables might be sparse, clothes (and this year, tents) for those on the streets - as well as so much more that is hidden and yet amazingly imaginative.
But the thing that delights and moves me most is not these biog efforts, significant thought they are for what is not a large congregation. It is the ongoing, everyday, taken for granted and so not lauded generosity that people show; the support that is private and so I am not going into details - meeting need, yes, but also offering friendship, giving time, being there, supporting through skills and insights....so much generosity.
We are the people of God seeking to live following the call of Jesus. As we give, share, receive and offer, we are doing that. And as we do it, we are becoming ever more deeply the people of God, we are following ever more fully the call of Jesus. And we are seeing and being the coming Kingdom.
Thank you for it all.
Dec 6th 2022
We had a lovely time on Saturday; our Christmas Fair was the highlight of the day.
Huge thank you to all those who came (including Santa and Samta's elves) and to those who staffed stalls, supplied goods for stalls, made bacon (and sausage!) butties, helped children decorate biscuits....and all the other things that went on, and contributed to the buzz and joy (and the takings)
It was such fun - that, above all, was the experience. Yes, hard work; yes, deeply intentional - we were doing it for a clear reason; yes, exhausting...but it was fun. I could hear people catching up on news. I could see the wide eyes of the youngsters seeing Santa (and bemused that Santa knew each name!). I enjoyed - and watched others enjoy - the butties. I saw Christmas presents being bought, cakes being devoured and bottles tucked away to be taken home....
Christmas is about all sorts of things. But at its heart is a conviction about Incarnation; that God loved humanity so much as to choose to share human life. And an important part of human life is fun, community, news-sharing and decorating biscuits! So - as a way of celebrating Christmas, this is right up there as important. Whatever it means to say God is with us, it means that when life is good, fun and full of laughter, God is there.
Nov 30 2022
Saints' days are not generally an important part of our tradition. But during this year, we have spent time on the first Sunday of each month with somebody who has walked the faith path before us, to hear their story, listen to the questions they might pose for us, and pray for their faith also to be ours.
And today is the day when the wider church (and various countries who call him their patron saint) remember St Andrew, one of the first disciples of Jesus. There are various stories about him in the gospels, and even more stories following the Biblical times, telling of his travels, and miracles. Whatever the truth of the details of his story, it certainly appears that he travelled a lot....and afger his death, his remains were moved around a lot. So, whatever else he might be, we might identify him as somebody who has a profound presence in a world where people are constantly moving; those who are travelling for fun or for work, those who leave their homes and countries because of threat, of poverty, of climate change, of violence....
As we move into the season of Advent, marked by the celebration of St Andrew's day, the contrast between the image of Christmas as time for home and family, and the current reality for so many around the world (and in our own comunity) of being dislocated, far from family, language, culture is very marked.
It is something of a commonplace these days to remember that Jesus was not born "at home", but that his parents were away because of a government requirement - and that his first years were spent "in exile", as his parents went as refugees to Egypt to escape violence.
But just because it is commonplace does not mean it is less true; it is something we need to remember and understand not just as a truth about the story in the past, but as a truth of today.
The move into Advent is the move into a period when we prepare for God's coming into our world....where might we find God's presence in a world where people are on the move....?
Nov 16 2022
As some of you will know, I had a very slow time making the recording of last week's service available online. There were various reasons for that, but one of them was that my computer was not running as well as it could; and that was because its memory was too clogged up with past videos. So, this week, I have spent some time deleting and cleaning up the computer, in the hope that the next time I am processing recordings and so on, it will go more smoothly... Well, we will see.
But as I was doing that - and it took some time, - I had the chance to reflect on this whole process of cleaning up, throwing away, - in the modern term, decluttering. It is not something I find easy, and the older I get and the more I accumulate, the more urgent it becomes (did somebody say books....!!)
There is a pattern of "spring cleaning" in our homes, and there are good reasons for that; the end of winter, and the changing of clothing, of furnishing, historically, the lessning of using so much messy fuel (coal) to heat the rooms as the weather improves....and so on. Spring is a good time to do this.
But there might be an argument for something now, as we think about our lives of faith, and our life as a faith community. This coming Sundays is, technically, the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next Sunday, Nov 27th is Advent Sunday, as we start the new cycle of exploring what it means to follow the Risen Jesus.
So - perhaps as we come to the end of this cycle, it's not just my computer I need to clear of all the accumulated "stuff" of the past year. Perhaps there are regrets and grudges, failures and misplaced plans, frustrations and assumptions that I have developed and carried around that might usefully be laid down now, and not taken into the new year.
Who knows? Just as my computer is now running more smothly and swiftly, perhaps my following of Jesus, my seeking to live the Kingdom into being, my faithfulness as a disciple may become deeper and more true as I let go of stuff that is clogging my life.
I doubt my study will become tidy any time soon. But I hope my life of faith may become a bit more authentic, effective and Christ- centred, as I start a new year with Jesus and the people of God.
Nov 9th 2022
It's the time of year when remembering is high on our agenda; All Saints and All Souls days and November 5th have just passed, and this week, Remembrance Day, with our poppies and silences is coming up.
It is helpful - indeed, it is important - to have days when we consciously remember things that it might be more comfortable to forget. And for many of us, the pain, loss and horror of war is easily set aside.
This year, let's remember those in particular who don't need a day to remind them to remember, because every day there is something; their own physical reality, the gap in the family circle, the flashback.
And those who, without being able to remember, yet live with the impact of other's memories; the children whose lives are shaped by what parents went through before the child was born, communities where suspicion and tension run very deep even in generations for whom the original cause is long forgotten, policies shaped by events long ago that yet leave scars.
And let us remember too what words mean; what an "invasion" really is, what "refugee" refers to - those who in need of shelter and protection, refuge, what "peace" is; not just the absence of conflict, but flourishing, wholeness, mutual acceptance.
And let us pray for the coming of the Kingdom in concrete terms and experiences here and now.
Nov 2 2022
In three days, the COP 27 will start in Egypt. COP refers to Conference of Parties; it is the coming together of people with knowledge and power to change things and challenge the situation that is leading us into climate catastrophe. The official web-page says this
A defining moment in the fight against climate change.
Science has established beyond doubt that the window for action is closing rapidly. In November 2022, Egypt will host the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, with a view to building on previous successes and paving the way for future ambition.
A golden opportunity for all stakeholders to rise to the occasion and tackle effectively the global challenge of climate change facilitated by Egypt on the African continent.
It's a big task. If you want to look at more of what the official site says, go here... COP27
All the current climate news appears to be of disaster and threatened disaster. and it is beyond doubt that we are in serious trouble.
But we contiuue to have hope - and as part of that hoipe, we continue to pray.
CAFOD has produced this prayer for the conference;
God of blessings,
the universe sings of your glory.
Deepen our gratitude for all you have made
and awaken in us a renewed commitment
to care for the earth and each other.
Inspire world leaders at COP27,
with openness to listen to those most affected by climate change
and with courage to act urgently and wisely,
so that our common home may be healed and restored
and all people, and generations to come, may delight in it.
Let us pray....
Oct 26th 2022
A new project.
On Monday next week, we are starting our WarmSpace project; along with many other churches, and community centres, libraries and many other organisations, we are opening up for a specific time to welcome people in just to be, and to be warm. There will be comfy seats (thanks to Day Centre!), hot drinks and biscuits, newspapers, books, games if anybody wants them...generally a warm welcome with the emphasis on the warm! At a time when people are anxious about whether they can afford to turn their heating on, we - together with other local churches, so that we cover each day of the week - are trying to help. (And if you would like to keep warm - and would like to welcome others in, please come along on a MOnday afternoon between 2.30 and 5)
And it matters, and I am grateful that we are able to help.
But it should not be be happening.
So, as well as sticking plaster of meeting the immediate need, we are also campaigning to change things, and for the development of a community that is just, and where people can flourish.
Both are Kingdom life.
Oct 12th 2022
Do I always have to be magnificent?
I love the sentiment from Dr Seuss...it is encouraging, and hopeful and motivating.
And it is not difficult to find more sayings, posters and encouragements to get up and go, to believe you can and so do it, to be the change in the world we want to see and all the rest.
And they matter. It is important to be given confidence and encouragement and reminders that we can probably do more than we think we can, that we have responsibility and that we are people with resource and courage and gift and worth.
I spend my fair share of time telling - reminding - people of their worth and value, and encouraging them to stretch and be brave and believe in their capacity.
But sometimes I wonder if it all gets a bit much. If sometimes, it might be better to say to folk "it's ok, take a rest, don't keep striving, let somebody else take the burden for a bit."
I believe that each one of us is of infinite worth based on my conviction that God loves us infinitely, and that we need to be constantly encouraged to dare to trust that. But all too often that realisation comes along with the message - subtle or not so subtle - that, precisely because of that we have the capacity and even the reponsibility to be amazing, do amazing things, shine and glow and all the rest of it.
And there are times and contexts when it is true that we are called on - and have the capacity to - to be amazing.
But our worth, our identity does not depend on that but on the love of God. And the love of God is God's action, not something we earn, create or deserve by climbing our mountain or fulfilling our potential or whatever it is that is the buzz phrase.
Yes, we have responsibilities. Yes, we have gifts and challenges.
But God's love for us is because God loves us. That is all.
So, if you are tired, if you are distracted, if you just want to be "ordinary" and unshiny, that's fine.
God loves you. And God loves me. And that is enough in and of itself to make us infinitely worthy.
Oct 5th 2022
Asking the right questions
The Covid Inquiry has begun this week, as we try to ask what happened, whether it happened as well as it could have done, who did what, wehat went wrong, what might we learn for if/when something like the pandemic happens again.....and all the rest of it. You know the form.
Will it be helpful? Well, we need to wait and see, to trust that those leading it have wisdom and courage, and those answering questions will be honest and ready to face the issues full on....and so many other caveats.
Inquiries matter - but only if they ask the right questions.
Indeed, asking the right question is the key to so much. As we watch - and listen to!- the politicians at the conferences and responding to the issues we're in the middle of just now, are the right questions being asked? The questions about justice, about possibility, about the vulnerable and marginalised, about where the Kingdom might be found. And if thay are not, how do we go about ensuring that such questions are raised?
I am a great devotee of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. And in one of the episdes, there is a wonderful dialogue that demonstrates that the way the question is asked determines the outcome of the Inquiry. The question that is being discussed is to do with the return of National Service. Sir Humphrey demonstrates to Bernard, by asking him two series of questions, how to come up with diametrically opposed points of view (you can see it here; the scene starts at 21 mins https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5tc4ld)
It is easy to ask the questions that will lead to the result that is wanted.
Perhaps it is the prophetic voice that asks the questions that lead to new possibility and deeper understanding.
And maybe our question should be who is asking that?
We pray that God will raise up the prophets.
Sep 28 2022
Peace with justice
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a meeting where somebody who has family in Ukraine and is involved in aid work there was talking about the war, and about what it would take to end it.
This last Sunday, our thoughts were with the people of Palestine and Israel as we heard stories about that complicated part of the world and this history and contemporary realities.
With all God's people, we pray for peace in the world and we regularly pray for peace in these areas and others like them, where violence seems endemic and people's lives are so deeply impacted.
The message I took away from listening to my friend talk about Ukraine, and that I know is deeply embedded in anything we say about Palestine and Israel is that, though at one level, all we long for and seek to see is an end to the violence, that is not enough, that is not peace.
For peace must also involve justice.
And that means not just the guns being laid down, but so much changing in the way people relate, tell their history, deal with their resources and look at a future.
I have another friend who is a pastor in Belfast. She has become deeply involved in peacemaking work there, and her accounts of what is happening, the tensions and anxieties that people live with - and the violence that surges up - is a sign that simply stopping shooting one another is just the first step. There is so much further to go in building confidence and security for people, so that life can begin to flourish freely.
As we pray for peace, let's also pray for justice. For only when there is a just peace will there be the shalom of God which is the lasting life-giving peace that cannot be shaken. And today, I ask you to include in your prayers J, who works for peace in Ukraine, and K working for peace in Belfast - both of whom suffer threats and insults as a result.
Sep 14 2022
Lessons from the littles...
A friend put this on social media this week - and I love it. At 615ers, the youngest of our youth groups, where I have the delight of taking part, we have one rule; Be Kind. (We also have one aim; Have Fun). It is a really helpful reminder - as you think about saying or doing something, if it is something you would not like said or done to you, it's not kind, so choose not to do it....and if it is something that would make you feel better, then do it.
It is such a simple rule. It is easy for the youngsters to learn it. It can apply in all sorts of situations, and it helps them take responsibility.
And it has far reaching implications - as we get older and our lives and contexts got more complex, we may need to think about the implications of this more deeply.
But it still works.
We are accustomed to knowing that Jesus' Big Two when it comes to the commandments are Love God and Love Your Neighbour....and this, perhaps, might be the summary that the writer of the letter to the Ephesians is making of it. It is so much about action and attitude, and can be a good checkpoint of any thing we do or say; somehow less "amorphous", and more concrete. Be kind....
And just now, when emotions are so high - and opinions so differing, - it has a particular resonance.
Sep 9 2022
This week's blog is late, because I have been out of reach of a computer for a couple of days. But my intention this week had been to write about the coming a new prime minister which, whether we agree the policies (and even the process!) or not, has been an example of the peaceful transfer of power that news from around world reminds us is a rare privilege. We are so accustomed to it that we can afford to take it for granted, but it is and needs to be acknowledged as rare thing, and a precious thing.
And then yesterday, and again, whatever our views on the monarchy, that rare and precious thing, a peaceful transition. The only inconvenience most of us will face is the need to learn to sing our National Anthem with different words.
Change is not easy or straightforward. For most of us, we get things how we like it and want it to stay. Change in the big institutions of our life and society can trigger all sorts of feelings, of reactions, and even of anxieties.
But in this time of change - planned for but still a shock, both in the political and the monarchical life of our nation, we can be grateful that it is peaceful, it has shape and form, and we are not facing violence or threat.
There will be all sorts of adjustments, we will have all sorts of reactions - we may not think the change is fundamental enough. But for this we can be thankful - we are free to talk about it, and makie our responses known, and trust we will still be able to do the same thing tomorrow and next week and next year, without threat.
That is not a freedom to be taken for granted. It is to be cherished, protected and celebrated. And we will do so in days to come.
And today, as we try to make sense of all the changes of the last weeks, we pray for our prime minister and government as they face enormous challenges, asking that God's wisdom, justice and companionship will be theirs. And we pray for the royal family as the mourn, remembering too the many around the country who are grieved by this death.
And we pray with God's people everywhere; "Thy Kingdom come..."
Aug 31st 2022
Every Saturday, between 10am and noon, we are in the car park to receive donations for Chelwood Foodbank. We, along with other churches, and schools and all sorts of other organisations - and lots and lots of people, - have supported the foodbank for many years. When lockdown started, together with Cheadle Hulme Methodist church (who collect on a Tuesday) we decided that car park collection was a way to protect the ability to give and make it happen in a safe way.
It's been a really good experience. Sometimes a very wet one, occasionally, a very warm one, always a very friendly one, and every week very worth while. Some weeks have been more supported than others (a couple of weeks ago we needed extra cars because we had so many donations, and we are very very grateful), but it has always been something that has felt important.
The foodbank folk tell us that it is very useful - and it has had the added side effect that we have raised the foodbank's profile - and we have got to know our neighbours a bit better.
The foodbank folk also tell us that the need for the foodbank is growing. As more and more people feel the impact of rising proces, and for some lowering real wages, a scary number of people, many of whom have never before thought of themselves as struggling financially, are finding that they need the help that is offered.
I am delighted that we can play our part in supporting people this way.
I am horrified that as a society, we need to do this! Indeed, I am more than horrified. I am deeply, deeply angry.
I read a report today that one of our leading politicians has said that he finds foodbanks "uplifting".
I find people's care in supporting foodbanks uplifiting. I am moved that folks care enough to find ways to help - even when their own purses are being squeezed.
I do not find the need for foodbanks "uplifting"; I find it shocking, angering, shaming....
And that one of our politicians says this is sadly, not a surprise.
But it is a cause of deep deep - and I believe, - righteous anger.
We will keep on collecting as long as it is necessary.
But never, never will we accept this as uplifting or praiseworthy that foodbanks need to exist.
Aug 17th 2022
Church, but different...
Most of us, but not all of us, now meet for worship in the building, as we rebuild a way of functioning in the wake of all the weirdness.
Those who cannot come to the building, for whatever reason, are able to join by zoom, or to share in the service thorugh audio or video recordings. (If you haven't found them, they are here Stream Worship at Grove Lane Baptist Church music | Listen to songs, albums, playlists for free on SoundCloud and here Grove Lane Baptist Church - YouTube )
I love that we can all connect in this way - and I love that there are people accessing the recordings from around the world, according to the clever bit on the website that tells me such things. I don't know who these people are, but it is fascinating and heartwarming to know we have connections in places we never expected.
But it does make me ask questions. One of the core convictions of our way of being church is that we "gather" - historically, the emphasis was that we gathered, at the invitation of the Spirit and in relationship with each other, rather than at the behest of a ruler, and on the basis of geogrpahy.
So, what does that mean now? Our gathering is extended - it is no longer limited to physical presence, or even all being together at the same time? Is it still gathering? What do we need to do to make it function well? Clearly we need good tech and good tech skills, and I am very grateful to those who offer these skills so freely. But what else do we need; what attitudes, what practices, what theology?
And is functioning well the most important thing? If not, what is? And if it is, what are the criteria on which we base an understanding of "good functioning".
For many years, I have taught about groups, especially Anabaptist and Baptist, exploring, questioning and taking risks to develop an authentic, Spirit-led and Scripturally shaped way of being communities of people who followed Jesus. Looks like I don't need just to teach about them, but to learn from them about how to do this kind of thinking and inventing.
Please do join in the conversation.....
Aug 10th 2022
Phew, it's a scorcher....
Anybody who is around me at the moment will know I am not a fan of hot weather - and this is beyond comfort, by a long way!
But I am trying (not succeeding, but trying!!) not to complain too much, as I remind myself that what we are encountering in heat waves at the moment is part of something - often much worse - that people are enduring around the world.
Climate chaos is a thing that is disrupting not just my comfort, and frankly I have enough resources to deal with that in my privileged context, but is disrupting people's lives, health, future in so many places.
So, instead of rambling on today, I want to point you towards this work - as we struggle (some of us at least) with our temperatures, it is important to remember the wider context...
and this resource
Keep cool - and make choices that can change the world for the better!
Aug 3rd 2022
A big small thing....
We held a coffee morning and cake stall on Saturday; the first one we have done since before Lockdown. We were raising money for Hope Home in Chang Mai in Thailand, an orphanage for children with complex special needs run by Judy Cook, our link missionary, and for the BMS Ukraine Appeal. At the last count we had raised £600 (there is probably a little more to come in).
That is a good amount of money, and we are delighted with it.
But more happened than just the money. We had time to be together and share food and drink - and this is no small thing post-lockdown. We have missed doing that, and it was a delight to share again.
This is a good activity, and we delighted in it.
But more happened.
It was not just people from the congregation who were present; family members and Day Centre guests came along to support us. They had heard this was going on, and wanted to contribute, and to support - as well as enjoy time together, and take home delicious cakes, and why not!
To see people and rejoice in their company was such a good thing, that it was nothing but delight.
And more happened.
Some of those who came to contribute to our weekly foodbank collection saw what was going on and came in; others had spotted the poster and came in. Some just noticed it going past - and came in. They wanted to give, they wanted to see what we were doing, they wanted a cake and a coffee...
And all of that is good and delight.
It was apparently a small thing, two hours sharing coffee, eating biscuits and buying cake.
It was no small thing, given all the preparation, care and energy that went into it.
It was no small thing, raising money that will make a difference to people we might never meet, but for whom we care.
It was no small thing, having time with friends and neighbours and making new friends.
It was no small thing - and I am convinced that our delight is a mirror (or is mirrored by) delight in heaven at what we did.
And we get to do it all again in September to raise money for Leprosy Mission.
Thank you to everybody who made it happen, who came along, who gave and supported and enouraged and delighted.
It was a big small thing.
July 27th 2022
I seem to have spent the last few days speaking and writing an awful lot of words. It has been quite a successful time; I have finished a couple of projects and had several really helpful and significant conversations.
But the number of words has been quite overwhelming.
It is so easy to get lost in all the words, and drown in the noise and writing...
Too much talking and not enough listening is a recipe for getting in a muddle.
So, a short blog, because I am trying to find some time of quietness.....
If you want to say anything to me, now is a good time. I might have stopped talking for bit!
July 13th 2022
Not going as well as it could...
I've had a few days of things not going as well as they could - specifically, techy problems. Our computer and our projector would not speak to each other during the service on Sunday morning, which meant that connecting with our Zoomers was not a smooth as it usually is, and that those in the room were not immediately able to see the screen for responsive speaking and for hymns. We got round it, but it wasn't what we hoped. As the week has gone on, it has become clear that the laptop on which I do all my work is feeling tired, and that certain things that I usually do without needing to think about the means by which I do it now require a great deal of thought and patience.
And there have been various other, minor, reminders of just how dependent I am on techy things, and how little I know what to do when things go wrong.
There is little new in that; nor does it only apply to tech. It is a bodily truth as well - I take my physical existence for granted until it is not working as it should, and then I realise how little I know, and how powerless I can be to make it alright again.
It is a truth about our environment - for generations we have assumed that all is well, and acted without reflection, and now that it is going wrong , we are struggling. The difference here of course is that we do know what to do. The question is whether we have the will to do it!
I have always been grateful to be around those who are problem solvers - so often, folks with these skills have seen, diagnosed and indeed solved the problems just as I am beginning to notice that something might not be quite right. And all the things I have mentioned can be dealt with, and I am so glad there are people who can do it, and who are not only able, but willing.
Now I am seeking, as I trust these people to get on with finding and implementing solutions, to reflect on what I might learn from these experiences of frustration, powerlessness and incapacity. Apart from going back and reshaping my life so that I learn the skills that I depend on in others, my biggest desire is that I encounter these experiences not as ones that stop me in my tracks with anger or impatience, or make me give up or try to avoid them, but that I can enter into them as moments of remembering my interconnection with others, moments that deepen my capacity for patience and empathy, especially with those who struggle to make sense of the world, and moments that remind me to laugh especially at my own pretensions to independence, self-sufficiency and competence.
Well, I can hope....
July 6th 2022
This is our notice sheet for this week (we put the notices up on the"coming up" page of the website each week, if you ever need to consult it!) You will see - or if it is too small, check it out elsewhere, that Gaynor, our wonderful notice-writer has included information not only about what is happening with our congregation, but various things going on as "special days" - Sunday was Plastic Bag Free day, one that matters a lot to us as we seek to live well with the rest of creation. She has also pointed out that World Population Day, World Youth Skills and International Nelcon Mandela Day are all coming up; keep an eye out for them, and see how they might challenge or encourage you.
On Sunday, I was talking about Dorothy Hazzard, a bit of hero of mine; among other things, she was one of those who founded one of the first Baptist churches in this country, in Bristol, in 1640. But before that, as a woman running a grocer's shop and already having very well-developed theological views, she used to open her shop on church feast days, most notably Christmas, and sit sewing in the window, so that everybody could see what she was doing. Her reasoning was that no day was more special or more holy than any other, and it was a denial of God's absolute presence with us if we treated some days as days on which God was "more" present....
I think we need Christmas - and our other feasts - as part of our Christian life. But these days are not because they are more holy, as if God blesses these days more than others. It is because they disrupt our normal routines, shake us out of habitual ways of behaving, and remind us that our day to day life exists in a bigger context - that of that activity of God.
The days Gaynor has listed, and so many others like them, serve the same function, albiet in a non-liturgical way; reminders, or moments to inform!, about topics, issues and causes we might otherwise forget about in the regular routines of our living. I like to think that Dorothy Hazzard might have found this argument convincing (though probably not!)
And of course she - and we - do keep Sunday in a variety of ways, as a day that has something signficant about it. In moving the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, the early believers were commiti ng themselves - and us - to the most significant regular remembrance of all; that on the first day of the week, Jesus was raised from the dead, and is present among us. And with that presence, he indeed blesses every day, and offers us opportunities to love and be loved.
And if anybody is interested, tomorrow is World Chocolate Day....
June 29 2022
Where did it go....
It feels like an age since I last wrote a blog - and indeed, it is 4 weeks. For various reasons, some lovely and some hard, I have not been around much over the last few weeks. But as of this week, I am back in the normal routine again, just wondering where the last month went...
But I want to say a huge thank you to so many people who have held things together over the last weeks, and have made it possible for me to do what I needed to do.
It is when things go wrong that we discover how resilient systems and resources are. One of the things the last few years have shown us (and where did all that time go?) is that interdependence and our reliance on all sorts of previously taken-for-granted systems really matters.
There is a constant theme in the Christian tradition that can push us toward not being "at home" in our society, or our world; being in the world, but not of it, for example, or reamining untainted by the worldly values that seem at odds with Kingdom themes. But we are part of our world, we do live in society, and it seems appropriate at times to affirm just how good that is, and how much we depend on a functioning community. When we needed to depend on health services, on people to keep the shops open, on delivery drivers and on neighbours who went shopping, on teachers who found new ways to engage and on each other to keep us all safe. on the whole what we needed was there. And it was there before, and it is still there - it's just that we often don't notice all the support we have until we are in a crisis.
Yes, there are many ways and many issues over which I long to see the Christian community take a different point of view, and operate in a differnt way from "the world" or our wider society.
But today, I want to be grateful for all the things I take for granted because, when life is going well and all is as I need it to be, I don't notice - but which is all part of living in our world, and being part of our society.
Sometimes, it is more "where did my thanksfulness go?"
June 1st 2022
We had a party yesterday! Day Centre celebrated the Jubilee as only Day Centre can - with food, fun and much laughter. We were entertained on the piano as we ate, we toasted the Queen and sang the national anthem, we waved flags, we ate - we ate such a lot, - we had a quiz, and we enjoyed each other's company.
A huge thank you to everybody who made it happen, especially those who prepared all the food - and those who washed up afterwards!
May 28 2022
Missing Blogs...and Christian Aid
Friends, it may be that you have noticed that there has been a dearth of blogs recently (it may be that you haven't!!), and I apologise. Life events have intervened, and things have been rather complex, meaning I have not been online at my normal times. I hope that it will settle a bit in the next weeks.
But if you haven't noticed the lack of blogs, I hope you have noticed Christian Aid week this month. This is an important part of the fund raising for this important NGO, which does so much good around the world. If you would like to know more about its work, please look here;UK charity fighting global poverty - Christian Aid
Christian Aid is important to us as a church, and there has - and will be; the Sponsored Walk is coming up soon - lots of generous giving. Christian Aid Week is a central part of the fundraising - but the work goes on all year, and so gifts are needed all year. If you already contribute, thank you. If you would like to give, thank you. And if it is all new to you, then do check it out, and see how you might be able to support this vital work.
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.