Ruth's Ramblings;

 

A Minister's Blog

 

 

June 12 2024

Thanks for Tax

 

Has the eletion campaign got you feeling like this?

I suspect I am not alone in this experience. And far be it from me to suggest how you should vote. 

But we have been reflecting together that the assumption in so much of the discussion that lower taxation is something everybody wants is really a rather large - and not wholly justified - one.

Yes, of course, people want more money to spend as they choose. But many also want more sustainiable health care, better social care provision, well resourced schools, benefits that allow people dignity and the possibility of flourishing, agencies that enable people to have the resources to get out of poverty; in other words, there is a significant voice expressing the desire for a society that values the common good, not just the individual one with no care for the other - and recnognises that the paying of tax is part of making that happen. 

Of course we will have debates about how our taxes are spent. Of course, we deplore waste and want to see the money that belongs to us all and is in common is used well.

But neither of those desires is only met by cutting taxes. Whereas the supporting of mutual care and services that sustain the common good does requre resourcing. 

On Sunday in our prayers, we marked Tax Justice Sunday - which is an initiative of the Just Money Movement, an organisation that provides resources and campaigning to help us work well with money in a Christian way.

And that takes the privilege of paying tax seriously. This link leads to a very interesting news item. The Blessing of Taxes

What do you think?

 

 

June 5 2024

Jurgen Moltmann 8 April 1926 - 3 June 2024 (aged 98)

Jurgen Moltmann was a theologian who shaped so many of those of my generation and the generations around me, and who will be missed. He was brought up in a secular home just outside Hamburg, and during WWII, was imprisoned in various places, including Kilmarnock, and eventually, near Nottingham. While he was in the camps, he met various Christians, including a chaplain who gave him a New Testament. His description of his growth in faith as a result was "I did not find Christ, he found me".

After the war he started to study - and to write - theology. His theology, worked out through a range of books and many years has at its heart convictions about the Kingdom of God as the future, and so the call to live that hope in the present, in reconcilation, in liberation and in transformation.

I'm sure any of you who hear me preach regularly will recognise this - at least, I hope so. Moltmann has long been one of my guides. His writings are deeply embedded in my heart and mind, and I thank God for his books, and for the chance to have heard him speak several times. 

One of his sayings about prayer seems to me to be one of the wisest things I have ever heard....

 Normally we close our eyes when we pray, but the catacombs of Rome show that the first Christians stood and prayed with open hands and open eyes.So, we must learn this new type of praying with open eyes. We need a prayer of hope, an eschatological or a revolutionary prayer by watching.

Amen!

 

May 29 2024

Election....

You may already be tired of this....for there is a certain weariness that can set in as we contemplate listening and deciding, seeking the people with integrity and vision and plan we can agree with or trust in, trying to hear beyond the soundbites or see beyond the photo opportunities....and we (well, I know I!) want to switch off from it all at times. 

Well, I can't promise I won't be mentioning it over the next few weeks.

But I want to start with this; that whoever it is we vote for, and whatever our views of those who are standing, it matters that we remember these are all people, and that we will never meet or be aware of a person that God does not love extravagantly.

Our voting will be on the basis of that which matters most to us, and will - I hope - reflect our own integrity and good intentions. But as we make those choices and decisions, I invite us all to remember that even the people we disagree with are beloved.

And so, as well as taking issues seriously, reflecting on why we are making the choice we are, and longing for us as a community to make good choices that reflect the values we aspire to, I am committing myself, and inviting you to join me, to pray for all who are standing, and in particular for all who are standing in our constituency. Let's pray together for God's blessing, for protection and sustaining in what is a gruelling time of campigning, for respect for one another, for good grace and a commitment to truth and integrity.

May 1 2024

Pausing...

You may (or may not!) have noticed a distinct lack of blogging in the last few weeks. Well - there is a good reason for that. It was a holiday....

And not only was it a holiday, it was a real pause and space and rest.

I only noticed how much in the course of a conversation with a stranger - yes, really!

I was queuing at a Farmer's Market when the person in front of me, after a long and rather complicated discussion with the stall holder, turned and apologised for holding me up. "Not to worry - I'm on holiday; there's no rush!"

"Oh, but you'll be in hurry to get to whatever it is you need to see next..." was his response.

"No - I've stopped doing all that rushing around" I said - and suddenly realised, that for those two weeks at least, it was true. 

And it feels great. Not only physically, but in giving me time and space to notice the things of God in my experience of being alive. To see the beauty in gardens (yes, spring helps with that!) To hear hope, heartbreak and everything in between as people speak and I have space and time to listen, not just work out what I need to say and do next. To feel the energy in each breath and have time to breathe deeply and enjoy it. To pause in a task and remember a friend who I want to pray for, a memory to give thanks for, something coming up to prepare for and pray about...

I have been enjoying it, and it is definitely good for me.

Will it continue? Probably not! But the word-link between holiday and holy-day might help me. Every week can't have a holiday - but it can have a holy day, a Sunday when, meeting with the people of God among whom I serve, I am given the opportunity to slow down, pause, breath, look, listen, find space to nnotice where God is and what God is doing, as we tell the stories and bring the prayers and notice....

Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

 

April 10 2024

Easter continues...

The lovely thing about Easter is that, not only does it come around each year, but that it never goes away. That's the thing abouot Resurrection; once it is loose in the world, it can't be shut up again!

And so, in a variety of ways, some obvious and some suprising, we go on seeking, exploring and trusting in the life that is full...

Full of love - even for those who we had thought were unlovable.

Full of hope - even when all around us is proclaiming hopelessness.

Full of faith - and what might that look like? The willingness to dare, to take a risk that loving and hoping is not pointless or whistling in the dark, but rather, is living the Life of resurrection and of the Kingdom until it is the truth.

Happy Easter!

April 4 2024

Easter

The stories we read of the resurrection in the gospels all have people looking into the tomb. I have been very struck this year by this picture looking out...

If we were to think of Jesus looking out on that morning as he explored the new life, what was he seeing...

Details we don't know - we're not really sure where the tomb was, so we can't imagine what the view was like. 

But the meaning of what he saw....that we do have clues about. 

He saw - and sees - people, nature, trees, clouds, light, structures of social living....

And what is more significant is, that on looking on it, he loved it. Indeed, he looked on it with love. 

For why else would he live his new life in it. 

And the call, as we explore what it is to live in a world in which resurrection makes a difference, is to look with the same love. 

Not too look into the tomb, but to look from the tomb out, and see what it is that is beloved, and join in the loving....

 

Feb 28 2024

Soup and the Kingdom of God

A bowl of soup

It's that time of year, when as part of Churches Together in Cheadle Hulme, we share Lent Lunches; on a Saturday, each church in turn hosts a lunch of soup, and offerings are received for Christian Aid.

The basic meal is soup - but each church has its own spin on it...one church has a chef among its congregation, and the soup is often very specialised (and delicious), another church (us!) always serves chees as well as soup and bread, a third has a member who specialises in home made bread and we enjoy that at our meal, and so on. 

We sit together - usually the tables have people from different churches and there is time to talk, to catch up with old friends or make new connections....

And there is money to help the work of Christian Aid. 

It is a very worthwhile activity - and it is a wonderful parable of the Kingdom, and the place of different churches or communities, or what you will within it;

      we each have the same basic context, but each does it differently; 

      we build relationship - over food, which is always good (there is a reason why one of the prime images of the Kingdom is a feast!)

      we share resources to change the world, as the gifts go to Christian Aid, and empower and enable people. 

Lent can seem like a time of hard work and gloom  - and certainly those who make the soup, who serve and wash up work hard and we are grateful to them for it. But this way of marking Lent is far from mournful or a struggle; it is a blessing in so many ways. 

Thank you to those who enabled our turn last week - and if you haven't been along ot one of the lunches, do try and get there. It is a lovely and a worthwhile thing to participate in. 

 

 

Feb 14 2024

A guest blog....from our Church Secretary (who doesn't look like this at all!!)

The first 12 months of the ‘rookie’ Church Secretary.

 

When I was invited to write this, my initial response was ‘I don’t do blogs, I’ve never written one, ever’.  So, here goes.

I always knew that my predecessor would be a really hard act to follow. And so I am immensely grateful to her for her wisdom, encouragement, support and friendship.

Baptists Together defines the objective of the Church Secretary as “to ensure that the church functions well, so that it can fulfil its part in the mission of God”.  This perfectly covers everything I have encountered, but the breadth of the role has been a real learning curve.

Alongside the obvious regular administrative tasks, many other unexpected and interesting situations and challenges have arisen. Fortunately, the church has some wonderful ‘can do’ people who just step in and help.  Coming out of lockdown has enabled us to transfer several of the ‘ongoing’ jobs to the ’completed’ list, which has been very rewarding.

Moving back to Grove Lane, after our escape to the country several years ago, has meant catching up with lots of old friends as well as making new ones.  This has been a real bonus and it is wonderful to discover that the fundamental ethos of the church and the way it serves God and the community, now under Ruth’s inspiring leadership, has not changed.

There are people here who quietly, week after week, get on with lots of jobs that make our coming together, sharing with and caring for each other so much more effective and positive.  The church is immensely grateful to them all.

Serving Grove Lane as secretary is a real privilege.  I am conscious of having got some things wrong this year, but am still learning and would like to thank everyone for their understanding and support.

Feb 7 2024

What kind of service?

a yellow defibrillator box fixed onto a wall

The entry in my diary read "Defibrillator service".  I wondered what I had agreed to do. Were we planning a service of dedication for our now not-quite-so-new defibrillator? Did I need to put together a liturgy - and if so, what on earth would it look like....?

Then I remembered; a skilled technician was coming to check over the machine and its accessories to ensure that all was running well, and that it would still be able to do what it was needed for, should the occasion arise. Servicing our machinery - our cars, our church boiler, the various things we depend on - even having physical "servicing" as we have check ups, ensure our meds are appropriate, examine lifestyle and health choices - all of these matter, to ensure that things go well, that we can do what we need to, that there are no unforeseen disaster (and it means we might be able to plan for the foreseen ones - note the boiler!).

Lent starts next Wednesday. Might it be a time for a spiritual service; a time to reflect on how well our life of faith is functioning, how integrated our stated beliefs and our actions, assumptions and choices are, whether our capacity to love is as attended to and well-maintained as it might be....? Might it indeed be a time to make some adjustments, clean out some habits, straighten out some bits of life and heart that might have got distorted? Might this be a gift of God to us to help us "run smoothly"...? 

Might we indeed devise a liturgy for that - perhaps saying the Lord's prayer slowly each day - allowing ourselves time to expand on eachg phrase, and seeking to pray it in new ways, in deeper ways, in ways that might change us and the world?

 

Jan 31 2024

An amazing week

 

It's not the prettiest building in the world - or even the city...and this is decidedly not the best photo of it (it was cold and blowimg a gale!) but this the headquaryers of the Baptist Union of The Netherlands, and for one week in the year, it hosts an amazing event. For the last week in January, doctoral students from across Europe, and from the Americas gather to share their research, support one another, pray together, and gain encouragement.

And I'm privileged to get to join in. I am supervising a student based in Canada (research into a sixteenth century theologian called Bernard Rothmann, if you're interested), and I am delightfully called a Senior Research Fellow of the International Baptist Theological Seminary. So, I am invited each year to the colloquium, and am supposed to be wise and insightful in my omments.

What I actually am is an over-excited child in an amazing sweet shop! So many clever people doing so much amazing work, and  I get to listen in to the discussions! I love to listen to people talk about things that fascinate them - even when I'm not sure exactly what they are talking about!

I have learned about the way an artist in Mali has produced the symbol of the cross with a bend in the upright, to symbolise the dancing that is such an important part of Mali culture and therefore worship, about the development of Baptist worship under communism, about how to read the Bible in ways that give confidence to the Chin people of Myanmar as they seek to live following Jesus in a culture that doesn't want them to, about how Ukrainians read what Paul has to say about relating to the authorities (and a little about Bernard Rothmann) and so much more.

But above all, I have learned about people who are creative, determined, dedicated and thoughtful - and how God is at work with them and in them in so many places and contexts.

So, I thank IBTS for inviting me, and Grove Lane for letting me go - and I can't wait til next year (when I will take a warmer jacket!)

 

 

 

 

 

I looked out onto a garden covered in snow, which was lovely; peaceful, elegant, pristine. And I walked out onto a path made treacherous by ice and lumps. What you might call a mixed experience.

On my walks recently, I have been listening to a series of podcasts telling the history of the rise of the Nazi party and the move into war. It is chilling stuff, but helpful to hear told coherently, and to have some myths busted, and some new facts learned.

And through the telling, I have found myself thinking often of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – not that he is mentioned, but because the dilemmas and the challenges that are being described are those that he writes about in various places, when he is exploring what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

I never failed to be moved by his hymn, translated as “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered….” – and especially that line “in this mixed world”; the reality of living in the complexity of a world both beautiful and broken, often horribly.

It feels really important to recognise that both are true – and not to allow one aspect of experience to dominate. If we focus only on the brokenness and horror, our grief, our anger and our sense of powerlessness will become overwhelming and paralysing. If we focus only on the beauty and delight, we will be unreal and constantly disappointed as we come up against hard stuff.

But it is important that we know – even allow – that both are true. Only that kind of clear sight will allow us to see the Kingdom when it does flash out, in beauty or through pain, and live for it and to it. That is the faithful clear sight we are called to, and offered in following Jesus. And we need one another to help us to do it; so our worship together – retelling our faith, listening to one another’s lives, encouraging and supporting one another in friendship (and sharing cake!)  - really matters. Thank you to all those who walk together as this congregation; together, we live “in this mixed world” and dare to hope that the goodness of God will reach others through us.

Jan 10 2024

Are whales Baptists?

Whales in the sea

The Guardian today has this report; "Scientists have identified seven distinct "clans" of sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean. Each has differnces in the Morse code-like sequences of sound they use to communicate.  The research says they appear to use consensus - rather than top-down leadership - to make communal decisions. But it is a slow messy process. Examples include taking up to 90 minutes to whether or not to make a 90 degree turn."

Perhaps this sentence struck me particularly when I heard it on the radio this morning because we have a church meeting tomorrow....not that we take 90 minutes to make a 90 degree turn....(often!)

But what really struck me was the phrase "a slow messy process" - with the implication that this was a bad thing. 

It can take us time to take decisions, and it can sometimes feel that we spend a very long time discussing things. 

But surely the only reason this seems "slow and messy" is if we value speed and neatness above all things. And maybe we shouldn't. Maybe taking proper time, maybe leaving rough edges - with all their possibilities for new things to emerge, unheard voices to be heard, 

There are places and times when efficiency and certainty are helpful. But they are not all there is. The Kingdom is not neat and tidy, nor does it come swiftly and completely. So, whether whales are Baptist or not, lets embrace this reality of who we are as God's people in this place for this time; it take time to come to our conclusions, but the process is as important as the decision - and God is in it all. 

 

Dec 20 2023

Is there hope?

background photo of bombed city. in front of it, a crib with straw. Beside it, a small read coat.

This is a picture of our display outside the church, at the exit of the car park this Advent. It shows an image of a bombed city, with the crib and small red coat in front of it. 

The theme has been "is there hope?"

We say that Advent is a time of hope, light for a dark world. And this image - we hope - sums it up. 

We believe there is hope.

But it doesn't look obvious, it isn't strength or domination or power. 

Dare we trust it?

 

Dec 13 2023

Tables with stackes of squash bottles, chocolate boxes, crips packets and biscuits, waiting to be packed into gift boxes  

Two very different events on the same dat in the building last Saturday; Hamper Packing, when 123 hampers of treats and staples were put together, to be distributed by Stockport Social Services; then a Christmas Fair run by and for Little Signers, a British Sign Language class that meets in our building during the week. The photo is of the choir from that class signing a Christmas song (I had hoped to show you a video, but it's beyond my capabilities!)

Very different activities - but with signficant overlap. 

During Advent, we have been considering what it is to hope, and what we hope for. And at the heart of this is the recognition that hope only matters once we have admitted all is not well. While we go on being convinced that the world is ok - or even that we are ok - then hope is unimportant. 

Food for those who are struggling with resources, and communication with those for whom standard communication is tough - and all the other stuff we have been doing, shoeboxes of gifts for children in Ukraine, waterproofs and warm scarves for people living on the streets, empty crisp packets to be made into blankets for rough sleepers, gifts ot the foodbank, toys for Wood St Mission to distribute as presents....all of these, and so much more in indivual actions; all of this involves saying the world is not ok. It may be ok for me and mine, but that is not enough. It is not as it should be.

And we hope to see it different, better, more just and joyful. 

That is the hope of Advent. And because it is what we hope for, we are involved in making it happen. If we didn't hope for it, our actions might be seen as despairing - trying to put something right that can never change. But we do hope. And so we do this and so much else with joy, with expectation that what we are doing is both a foretaste and a step towards the Kingdom we pray for.

Thank you to everybody for being involved. 

Dec 6 2023

Advent

Well that's it.  Advent is well and truly started...

And what is it to be this year? In this year when war and horror seem to be everywhere - including the places we are reflecting on as we re-tell the story. In this year as we listen, in the UK, to our politicians trying to exclude as many as possible, and our former politicians trying to justify what they did when our expereience was of something quite different. In this year, when we hear it is quite likely to have been the hottest year ever - and there is no sign of any change. In this year when prices have continued to rise and too many people are living with the reality of not being able to pay for things; when our social and health services are struggling; when our prisons are overcrowded and dangerous and when hope is in short supply.

What is Advent, that season of promise and hope, to be in this year...

There are no easy answers - and we shouldn't trust them if they are offered. There are no cheap promises that, if we just do this, that or the other, it will all be ok, and this will simply be a bad dream. There is no magic wand or strong leadership that will make it all fine.

To look for these is to hide from the issues and to deny the truth of the complexity that we live in and with.

So, is there hope?

We dare to trust that there is; that the God who promises is not lying to us, and is not abandoning us. That in the great promises of Advent, of renewal, and presence, of justice and restoration, there is some meaning, and that we can find it. As we light the candles, and seek the light and try to hear the angels, and open ourselves to the wonder, we dare to hope that, in ways known and to be made known, we will discover God's Kingdom peeking in, erupting, sneaking in through the keyhole, catching us by surprise. And, in stubborness, we refuse to let go, for in Advent, and in the promises we hear again, we hear of a God who won't give up on us.

 

 

Nov 29 2023

Marking

a paper with words, some underlined or corrected, and pen lying near

I've spent some of this morning marking a dissertation for a student. It is a task I both love and dread. I love the learning that comes with doing this work; reading something about which the writer is passionate, and to which the writer has brought research, reflection and hopefully, insight. I dread having to come to a conclusion about how good the work is, and giving it a mark.

In my experience, almost everyone who writes such a piece has put a lot of energy, care and attention into doing it, and I always want to be able to honour that. Sometimes, the writing is outstanding, the research impeccable, the ideas clearly and carefully worked out and presented. These are often the hardest to mark, because they can be so good that they are intimidating.

Sometimes, the writing, research and analysis is poor - trivial or misinformed. These are frustrating to mark, since I am left with the sense that the student really could have done much better, and I am disappointed and sad for them.

Then there are the ones that I do enjoy marking; where somebody has done well, but not intimidatingly so. From these I learn something, but above I learn about the student, about their interest, their passion and what it is they really want to communicate. I still dread giving a mark, because that always feels so very final and who am I to judge - except of course, I know that is what I am there for, and the mark is really a way of saying I have taken this seriously,  paid attention to what you are doing, and hope to help you grow and develop.

I realise as I do this, I am drawing on the wealth of wisdom that so many have offered me over the years; people who have taken my attempts - not just academic, but in being alive, in trying to live faithfully, in seeking to serve - seriously and honoured them. And in taking these attempts seriously, they have not let me get off with "sloppy work", but have challenged, questioned and encouraged me. I have such a lot to be grateful for - in particular, those who took the risk of giving me a "chllenging" mark....

Let us give thanks to all those who help us grow - and let us pray for the grace to be those people for others...

 

Nov 15 2023

Not sure how to react

We have now heard the Supreme Court's judgement on the Rwanda scheme - and it feels like a relief.

And we are also hearing the reactions of various people in positions of power who see this aas a mistake, and want to find ways to do what has originally been planned...including one senior official suggesting that we should "just ignore the law"...pleae God that isn't taken seriously/

As with so much that is happening at the moment, I find myself unsure about how to respond. I am delighted that what appears to be an inhumane policy has been ruled inadmissable. But what is going to happen instead...what other suggestions are people going to come up with. Because the assumption of the powerful continues to be that those who arrive here in ways that are non-traditional are not to be allowed in or accepted....and surely that is the issue we need to be facing. 

Because simply deciding people shouldn't come and wwe don't want them is not solving anything. 

But what would solve it?

I know there are people with much more understanding and much more wisdom than I have who are struggling with this. And it feels a cop-out to say I will leave it to them, and pray for their wisdom and integrity. But in the end, it is all I have.

But if it is all I have, then surely I need to be doing it not as something trivial or lackadaisical, but as something serious and responsible. So, with gratitude for others' wisdom, I offer you a prayer from Christian Aid, committing to make it my serious prayer, and inviting you to do the same, nnot just once, but regularly, as a way of doing as the psalmist says and "waiting on the Lord" and of saying what the psalmist says "how long, O Lord, how long....!"

Merciful God,
We pray for all whose desperation leads them to the 
sea,
to undertake perilous voyages,
often following dangerous journeys over land:
those escaping brutal wars,
those fleeing religious persecution,
those escaping climate disasters and economic ruin,
those looking for hope in a hopeless situation.
May we look beyond our own fears and concerns
to the needs of those who have nothing,
risk everything
and depend on the kindness of strangers.
May our hearts be opened,
our leaders be challenged
and our self-interest be called out,
in Jesus’ name.
Amen

Nov 8 2023

Feeling angry

I met a neighbour yesterday, in the pouring rain, and we were chatting about the weather. "I know what it is", she said" it's God's tears at all that is going on just now".

She has a point. If we believe, as I think we do, that God cares about those who suffer, and enters into the suffering, then the pain in the heart of God is real in our world today.  After all, if we are moved to pity and grief by the images we see and the voices we hear, then how much more the God whose love is far more than, and far more perfect than ours. 

But it's not just sadness, is it? It's not just grief and empathy that we feel; there is also anger. 

Anger at the cruelty that we see being enacted. Anger at the words we hear being used. Anger at the claims being made about what "the people" - that's you and me - want or believe is necessary. Anger at power grabbed and misused. Anger at attempts (often all too successful) to drive divisions into communities.

Now, our anger may well be tinged (saturated?) with self-righteousness and fear, with judgementalism and a wilful refusal to see. But it is also, I suggest, a product of spending time with God and hearing the call to "to do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with your God. " Or to take part in creating a world in which justice rolls on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream! 

It is said that if you believe God hates the same people you do, then you have created God in your own image. And there is a truth in that. 

But it is also true that we believe that God hates injustice, oppression and scapegoating....and that our anger at such is a reflection of this. 

So that leaves us with the question; how to resist these things while not being infected by the same drive to hate or exclude. 

Answers on a postcard please.

In the meantime, I am going to seek for ways to express my anger at some of what is being done "in my name" that are effective and as close to the vision of the Kingdom as I can find. Pray for me brothers and sisters, as we pray for the world; Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 

 

 

Oct 25 2023

Praying

In the face of images and news from around the world, we cry "Lord, have mercy".

And we pray "Use me, in whatever way, to be a means of peace and reconciliation."

And we implore "Lord, your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."

 

 

 

October 5 2023

Creation Care

Statue of St Francis, stting on a wall, overlooking trees and fields

If this blog had been written on the day it was supposed to have been - yesterday, Oct 4th (but....life!), it would have been on the Feast Day of St Francis of Assissi, and marking the end of the season of  Creation in the liturgical year.

Creation care is one of the things that we aspire to take seriously at Grove Lane....sometimes we do well, sometimes we get it wrong, but we do try (most of the time).

At the moment, we have a campaign of letter writing going on, and it is headed by this notice, courtesy of one of our members who is tireless in helping us remember our responsibilities and our aspirations.

Our Parliament didn't deserve a 6 week holiday.

- they have had 6 months to study the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report (available here IPCC Synthesis Report ), which summarises the agreed conclusions and detailed advice of scientist all over the world.

- they have failed miserably.

The Government is doing the exact opposite of what scientific advice, common sense and the well-being of future generations demands, and the opposition is letting them get away with it.

- Please protest to your MP and Opposition prospective candidate, or constituency party.

I don't think I can say it better, or add anything to it.

Over to you....

September 27 2023

Autumn

paved avenue between trees. The leaves are truning brown, and have begun to fall onto the path.

It is that time of year again. We have passed the equinox, and we can truly say the nights are drawing in, the days are getting shorter. The Mince Pies are in the shops (yes, really!) and we are about to start on the series of events that whisk us through from now until early January; Harvest Festival (we are celebrating on Oct 8th), Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night, Remembrance Sunday, Advent, Christmas and New Year. And these are only the ones I am directly invovled in....Other traditions and other communities are also celebrating and marking events in the next months.

Many, though not all, of the festivals I have named have their roots in the life of the Church. There is a common argument put forward that our season of Remembrance in November, our celebration of Jesus' birth at Christmas and several other festivals are "simply the church taking over and repurposing earlier forms of worship" - or even "colonising" other practices.

Well, yes. There is a truth in that. The reason our Remembrance Days fall when thety do is partly to do with the ending of the 1914-18 War - but it is also shaped by a deep tradition of remembering the dead as the nights draw in, and the dark dominates. For centuries the Church has celebrated All Saints and All Souls days at the beginning of November, and so Hallowe'en takes its current name from All Hallows (that is, All Saints) Eve....

But it is an older tradition; as the Faith became established in this country, it did take over existing traditions, and brought them into the new pattern. Thus, where the dead were remembered, feared and protection against them was sought, the Church's teaching was rather that they should be remembered with love, prayer and thanksgiving, not in fear, but in hope. 

Similarly with Christmas...there was long a midwinter festival, when greenery was brought indoors and lights were used to call back the sun, as the year turned, and we moved from ever longer nights into increasing daylight. And for those who were teaching the faith in a new context, what better time to explore with people what it means to trust in the Light of the World, who comes as a baby into the midst of our lives.

And we could go on....

Yes, the Church has taken over existing festivals and brought new meanings and practices to them. Why not? Central to our faith is the conviction that God is active in Jesus to reconcile all things....so why would we not expect to find echoes, hints, glimpses of what God is doing in all that is human and celebratory... 

So - all strength to you as we enter this busy season. And in it all, may the loving purposes of God for us and through us be ever more clearly seen.  

September 14 2023

Mourning

water drops on a black background

 

Yesterday, we held a funeral at church; we gave thanks for one of our members who is very dear to many of us, and we grieved together, and said our prayers and our farewells.

To take part in such an occasion is always an immense privilege, as it gives us time, space and permission to share together in the deep stuff of being human; the wonder and the pain of being of being alive, and the capacity for relationship that comes with that, as well as the joy and amazement of the gift that we are to each other.

And in a world in which not all relationships are good or fruitful, in which there is not always time to celebrate the flourishing of life and the blessing that we can be to one another, or the opportunity give thanks for things often unnoticed, when we do have the chance for all this, it is important to take it. 

Just as it is important to recognise that to celebrate these things is also to put ourselves in the position where we will mourn. To mourn is to honour and acknowledge the loss of something good and lifegiving in the person who has died...grief is the experience of loving somebody and not having the capacity, context or possibility any more of expressing or receiving that love. To mourn is to love....

So, if you re reading this, and you are mourning, let it happen. Resist those who tell you "you'll be getting over it by now". Stand against those who tell you "how" you shuld be feeling of "when" you shuld be sad; there are no rules, there is just the grief itself. It has work to do in and for you. It is love (even if it is other things as well) and deserves to be honoured as such.

For the promise, as we have reflected often this week, is not that we will not mourn, or that we will get over it, but that, as we mourn, we are blessed because we will be comforted....

September 6 2023

It's not enough to think it...

cartoons of speech bubbles in different colours

If by any chance you follow this blog regularly, you may have noticed that it did not appear as usual last week....

I had a whole idea worked out and ready to go, but somehow, it never made its way from my brain to my fingers on the keyboard to get onto the site...I'd thought it out; actually writing it down didn't seem to stike me as necessary!

I once worked with a colleague of whom it was rightly said there was no thought in his head that remained unuttered...and I loved working with him, and retained the right to say, on occasion "please stop talking for a moment and let me think". He was happy to agree to this - on condition that he had the right to say to me "it's not enough to think it, you need to say it too". For he had discovered that on occasions, I was prone to think something through and then assumne everybody else had been part of that process, and therefore forget actually to put it into words. It turns out I am still prone to do this - all his training has gone for naught...!

As well as my apology for not actually sharing that blog last week (I promise you, it was a good one!), it reminds me to comment two things.

Firstly, please remember none of us are mind-readers. If news needs to be passed on - about how somebody is, about a problem with the building, about an issue we can celebrate, please tell somebody. Otherwise we won't know.....(don't assume another person will do it; I, and I am sure most people, would rather be told several times than not told at all)

Secondly, it is good to remember that we do things differently - and sometimes, we need to be able to say to somebody "I know you are doing what is right and good and best for you; but it is not my ideal, so please let me do it my way". This is not about criticism or challenge - but about being ourselves with our own gifts, skills, strengths  and complexities. After all, we are A Body, not a single-celled organism; difference is built in and necessary (if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? asks Paul...a good question!!). I need the people who can proof read (indeed, I depend on them) because they are good at detail, while (I like to think) people who are good at detail can gain from my broad brush approach to issues.....

Well, I can't promise to recapture the lost brilliance of the missing blog, but I can offer you this, with a sense of satisfaction that this time I remembered that it isn 't enough just to think it.....

Aug 16 2023

Parts of the body...

figure surrounded by gearwheels

As many of you will know, I have been unable to speak for a fortnight...and this morning, after going to bed last night very croaky and whispery, I woke up this morning, full of energy and voice, and with a clear(ish) mind. I am better from whatever it was, and it feels wonderful...

I seem to have been laid low by a small virus that attacked a small part of my body - and the result was large and irritating.

It is when we are not well that we become most aware, I think, of the power of the image that Paul uses of the body and the reminder that "when one part suffers, all suffer with it" - when one small part of our bodies is not functioning optimally, then the whole body feels blech!

I am grateful today that the small part (my vocal cords) have recovered, and so my whole body and functioning are much more energised.

And I am also grateful for the Body of which I am a small part, and the way in which it has functioned over the last weeks; how people have stood in for me, have made allowances for me, have ensured that what I could not do was done, and have rallied round and cared for me. I was reminded many years ago when I was poorly and anxious about something or other for which I was responsible "it's fine; you're not the only person who is part of the Body of Christ - somebody else is perfectly able to do this". And more succinctly more recently, when I was fretting about not ebing able to do something, "what makes you think God is sitting there drumming his fingers on the arm of his chaor thinking, bother, now I can't do that because Ruth's not well - you, my friend, are not that important!"

To have a body, and to have a body that has recovered and is functioning again is a gift and privilege.

To be part of the Body - cared for, supported, part of the work and not the only one, all of that is something I treasure and honour and want to understand more....

 

Aug 9 2023

Embracing the silence

woman's face, with fingers on her lips

I am having the equivalent of a silent retreat at the moment. I wish I could tell you that this is a recent acquisition of  holiness, but in fact, it is a recurrence - more serious than usual - of my chronic tendency to losing my voice. 

And I am deeply grateful to those who are making it ok; helping out for the things I cannot currently do (such as the wonderful preacher for Sunday!) or bearing with me as I cancel yet another meeting/visit because I cannot say anything meaningful and be heard. And I am grateful that I was able to croak at a GP this morning, who will refer me to people who are able to work out why this keeps happening, and maybe help me to stop it....

But I am also struggling, I must admit. I hate the frustration of not being able to communicate easily (while being very grateful to email, text etc that means I am not exactly isolated!!), I hate not being able to do the things I had committed to do (and I had a sermon planned for this Sunday that I really wanted to preach - always a bad sign, by the way; my pride rearing its head!), and I hate the feeling of being feeble - since I don't actually feel unwell, just silent. 

There is a long tradition in the faith of silence as a way to detach from the distractions of the world and create space and time to be with God.  And if I was able to, I would love to explore that. But at the moment, the frustration (and, yes, the anxiety!) is rather getting in the way. The silence around me is drowned out by the noise in me - of muttering, of worrying, of imagining...

But one thing it does offer me is the chance to hear all that noise, instead of drowning it out by all my own speech and the way in which I use it to exert control over my world. 

So I am trying to do two things in these (I hope few) days - to listen to voices I don't usually hear, by taking extended time to read and reflect. And to listen to the voices of my own heart that I try to ignore a lot - my fears, anxieties and uncertainties...in the hope that in bringing the two together, I might hear the still small voice that speaks Life and Love...

 

July 26 2023

Our new sound system...

It's been on our agenda for rather too long (thank you lockdown!!), but it looks as if we might be well on the way to our new sound system. Clever people, even at the moment, are in the building, doing clever things with flexes and plugs and holes in the ceiling...and I am assured it will all be fine!

I have no doubts that it will all be fine; we will soon be able to hear more clearly, and not be (occasionally!) subjected to the crackles that seem to fill the atmosphere at times and frighten the horses - or at least the dogs. (Church dog gets very distressed - and doesn't she let us know it!)

So, we will be able to speak and hear more clearly. 

Communication really matters; keeping in touch, sharing news, ensuring that people know what is going on...it's all important.

And at the heart of it all, central to all our communication is the fundamental message that we seek to communicate; that God loves you, Jesus has been raised from the dead, and it will be ok.... This was a summary somebody once gave of every sermon I ever try to preach. It is probably a fair summary - and one I would be happy to stand by.

And however good or bad our sound system is, if we can share, communicate - and live by - that message, we're doing our work.

But I will enjoy having a non-crackly mic! Thank you to those who are making it happen. 

 

July 12 2023

Are you the caretaker?

There have been a variety of events recently in the building that have required furniture to be moved about - even more than we normally move our furniture. For a couple of them, I have (happily!) been the person on site to do it, and since I was shifting furniture, I was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, and hair scraped back. A couple of times, it was clear that those who were involved in the events, who otherwise know nothing about us as a congregation, assumed that I function as the caretaker of the building.

As I have thought about it, I love it!

One of the discussions we regularly have when ministers get together is just what is this role. And there are a whole variety of answers...leader, preacher, pastor...and then the more creative ones - midwife, mentor, proclaimer (which always gets me singing I would walk 500 miles....!)

And today, I am adding a new one; caretaker. Yes,  at times, I take care of the building, but I also get the huge privilege of taking care of people...listening to stories, catching up on news, sharing in life events, being present in wonderful and tough times...and I have the privilege of caring for our life together....our worship, our listening to Scripture, our listening to one another, our seeking to discern how to serve, our attention to what God is doing in and through us..... I get to "take are"; to be allowed time to pay attention, to give energy to being with, to have space and possibility to notice and reflect on what I notice....

I love the idea of being a care-taker....and in it I am grateful for so much - but these two things in particular; that I am entrusted with the care of this Church in all its aspects and that I am not expected to do it alone, but so many others in so many ways take care of so many things. 

Thank you. 

 

July 5 2023

Economically inactive?

There has been quite a bit on the news recently about those who are referred to as "economically inactive" - a new terem, and one I find myself increasingly reacting against.

To start with, I don't believe it is possible to live in our society and be "economically inactive"; things cost money, and nobody lives on fresh air or is entirely heated by the sun. So, we are all active in some way, even if all it is is paying bills....

But my resistance is much more than that. It is the way the term is used; it is used to describe those who are not earning a wage or salary or income in some way, and so are not, as the current popular ethos will have it, are not "contributing" to our economy - a term, remember, which refers in its roots to "a common household".

And, among other things, what disturbs me about this is the assumption, and indeed assertion that the only form of contribution that really counts is making and spending money. 

In the face of that, I want to honour our (and so many other) volunteers. People who give time, energy (and in some cases money) to make things happen; to give social space and companionship to those who might otherwise be extremely isolated; to give challenge, support and possibility to youngsters who might otherwise find opportunities limited; to give a welcome, stimulation, and a cup of coffee to those caring for toddlers, who might otherwise be lonely and without advice and encouragement; to those who collect and distribute food through the foodbank, filling shelves that might otherwise be empty.

I insist that such people are by no means inactive in any way - and indeed, are not economically inactive, as we think of economy referring to our common home in our society - and indeed, are making a financial contribution as they offer - for free - what mkight otherwise need to be paid for and might not be affordable. 

I know we need our economy, in its narrow sense, to work. I know that issues of inflation and stagnation are affecting us in all sorts of ways.....

But I am not convinced - indeed, I am less and less convinced that the great god of the market is going to save us. And I am more and more convinced that the God of Love, working through the love and care and self-giving of so many people will....

June 14 2023

Baptist Assembly

Rather later than usual this year, because of the Coronation, this coming weekend, Baptists from across England (and selected bits of Wales and Scotland) are gathering in Telford for our Annual Assembly. We will hear reports of how we are doing nationally; what sort of things are going on, how our common purse is being spent, where there are exciting things happening - and, if we are daring to be honest, where there are frustrations and disappointments. We will hear reports from BMS World Mission, about all sorts of mission work, development work, educational and medical work in various parts of the world. We will sing together (and I may even know some of what we sing), we will listen to inspiring preachers, we will catch up woith friends and remember. We will give thanks for those who have died and celebrate those who are moving to new spheres.  There will be opportunties to learn, to pray, to listen to areas of disagreement and to seek a way forward together.

Assembly is always a mixed experience; it is for everybody. Inevitably, as a large group gets together, from different contexts and with varying convictions and agendas, there will be differences, there will be things "I would do differently", there will be times I will wish I wasn't there! 

But it is worth going. It is helpful to be reminded not everybody is like me (or even us). It is good to encouter the breadth of our community, to be encouraged by all sorts of good things that are happening, to be challenged about new ways of doing things, to be offered other visions and meet other people whose convictions are as deep as mine, and yet different...

The Church of God is not uiniform or a community in which "my agenda" is the most important thing, or even where my convictions are the last word in certainty. The Church of God is a multi-coloured, multi-voiced, multi - opinioned and multi-everything else fellowship of people who are not me....and that is God's gift.

Pray for me this weekend, that I will be open to receive the gifts that are given....

 

June 7 2023

Ch-Ch-Changes

 catrtoon frog  pulling a suitcase, with the words "time for a change"

Help- the website instructions have all changed!! All being well, you won't notice any difference in reading this, but I am finding some differences in making it happen!

And that is not all fun!

However, I think I have figured it out now (we'll see, when we discover if anything I write can actually be read), and I am deeply grateful to the person who has sorted this (and indeed, who makes the website happen in all its complications).

But, change!

I used to work with somebody who, as far as I could see, would change things just for the sake of it...I now understand that more of what was going on was "this is great, how can we make it better...?", whereas my attitude was "this is great - why change it...?"

By which you will gather that I struggle with change. 

Nonetheless, it has to happen. In the garden, if something is not changing - growing, producing flowers, leaves, fruits, dropping leaves, going through the cycle - it is not living.... In our bodies, the only time things stay exactly the same is also if we are dead (yes, I know there is change there too.... - but the point still stands...those changes are to do with living organisms working....)

Life and change go together, and not just on wesbites. It is true for our lives, and for the life of our congregation. There is the old joke about the church that took as its motto  the line from the hymn "nothing changes here" - but that cannot be our life. Changes - in the way we do things, in the make-up of our community, in our approach and understanding, in our building - all of that is part of being a living people of God. 

Forgive me when I struggle with it. Come with me as I try to understand it. And together, let's walk - not stand still - and follow the one who says "Behold, I am making all thiings new" - even the way we manage the website!

May 17 2023

Christian Aid Week

This week is Christian Aid's big fundraising push. Of course, regular giving all year round is helpful, but there is something important about a focussed week, which raises not just the chance of more income, but the possibility of publicity. If you would like to know more of what is going on, and the way in which Christian Aid works to change the world, you can check the website here Christian Aid

The world can be scary, overhelming and confusing. The problems people face at home and in other parts of the world feel intractable, and we can feel powerless. But organisations like Christian Aid provide both a way to help, and information. The information, often using the stories of real people, of the situations they face and the possibilities that can be offered serves to shape the great mass of "the world out there" into focused aspects, that help us to realise we are involved with people like us, not a huge mass, that our giving, though it can feel small, is combined with that of other people, and so matters, and that those in power are also people like us, and so can be addressed, and challenged.

The individual stories give us a way into the bigger issues, and also, more importabtly a way to respond. 

A marketing ploy? Possibly. But marketing ploys work because they are formed on the basis of understanding people, and how we function. And we function on the basis of relationship with others, with real people, not just huge numbers, and with individuals we can relate to. 

It may be a marketing ploy, but God was on to it....what else is the Incarnation but a real person relating to real people, to give us all the possibility of forming a relationship with the Divine. 

And sharing in the work of Christian Aid is an Incarnational way of living - and so honours God, honours humanity, and brings in another glimpse of the Kingdom....

 

May 3 2023

A big day...

 

No matter how you feel about it, it is not easy to ignore the event that is coming up this Saturday - if only because it is, for many people, giving an extra bank holiday on Monday, and the weather is looking like a bank holiday; rain is forecast.

This coronation is dividing opinion, and we are not saying anything too controversial when we comment that our national sympathy is not entirely monarchist (just under a quarter of the population say that they are either republican, or just not interested...). But it is also true that, regardless of our political position, this is a notable event. (Notable can be good or bad, after all....)

And so we note it. 

We recognise and remember that behind and under all the ceremony and controversy, behind and under all the fancy dress and arcane activity, there are real people who are trying to do something that they believe is important and for a wider good than their own immediate one. And so, wherever we stand on the political spectrum in considering the institution, it is good to pray for the people. We have seen all too publicly played out the drama of a family in disarray, private grief and anger displayed in ways that cannot conduce to easy resolution. And so we pray for the people. 

And as we pray for the people, so we pray for our national community, with a history that shapes not only us, but, because of that history, the identity of so many other communities, and with a present that is not all we want it to be. We are aware of national trauma, anxiety, struggle and anger. But we know too of people of goodwill throughout the islands, who are working to build thriving communities and an honest and fair society. 

So, we add our prayers, and our good intentions and practice....with the people of God across geography and generation, we pray "Thy Kingdom come...."

 

April 26 2023

Hard to hear...

In our midweek reflection group, we have just started on a new series, using material drawn from this important book - and even in our first session, it is clear that this is going to be tough. As we hear the statistics around domestic abuse, the number of women killed by an intimate partner, the prevelance of violence behind closed doors, we are sad, angry, bewildered, powerless....

It is not comfortable listening or discussing. We are dealing with topics that we would rather not - that we might even prefer not to think would come within our experience. But evidence shows that domestic abuse and violence run at more or less the same level within Christian households as in society as a whole. And even within our small group it is clear that we know of those who live with or have lived with this reality...

So, it matters that we know.

It matters that we understand some of the mechanisms at work here - and some of the problems that are faced in any attempt to seen another way.

And it matters that we commit ourselves to listening - not just to the material offered by the study course, but to what is said - and not said - by those around us, who may need us to know what cannot easily be told. 

And if you need to tell somebody, please know I will listen....

 

April 12 2023

Easter Week

It's always tempting to feel, as the eggs get eaten, and the Bank Holiday is over, that Easter is done and dusted. 

And that life gets back to normal.

After all, "the real world" of war, of threatened war, of climbing prices, of people we are worried about - and our own worries for ourselves, as well as tasks that need to be done is still here, and not a lot has changed, except that we got a long lie on Monday....

And if that is all it means, then we might as well give up celebrating it at all. 

One of the reasons we gather for worship every Sunday is that we believe that Easter is never done and dusted; that we spend a life time and trest working out what it means and how to live as if it is true....and that is no easy task.

So we need each other, and we need the time to think togwteher about what this life that is full might look like, and how we can discover, embody and practice it . 

Easter is not over - we celebrate and explore it every Sunday.

Because it is so much bigger, deeper, wider and more than we can easily imagine....so, if you can, come and join us on any Sunday, to continue our exploration.....

 

April 5 2023

Holy Week

It is the week when we remember the last week of Jesus' life. Tomorrow (Thursday) we start the focused journey, taking us from the Last Supper through until Easter Day.

It is always (in my head at least) a strange time. After all, we know the end of the story - so how can we really connect except by thinking "once this happened". We can't relive it, because we know how it ends.

Or do we?

One of the things we have worked at doing in our Easter Walk in the church garden, is to make links between the aspects of the story and current experience - and using that as a way into prayer. So, as we think of Judas considering how to betray Jesus, we pray for people who feel betrayed by close friends and family - but we also pray for those who struggle to know what the right thing to do is, and how to do it. When we think about Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus' cross, we also consider those who carry heavy burdens of responsibility for others - and of the responsibilities we have.

As well as remembering the story, and reflecting on what it means for us, it matters too that we seek places where that story - in its struggle, loss and delight - is worked out in and through our own lives, how our lives are caught up into the bigger story.

It's not always straightforward, but it is a way of rooting ourselves in the story of God with people - and of discerning where God is present in and working through our lives. 

If you have time, why not come and visit our Easter Walk in the garden this week....

 

March 29 2023

Remembering

As we mark three years since lockdown and all the sudden changes we have to make, I have been updating our zoom account, and adjusting it to fit our new situation. It has brought back to me all the memories of those first few weeks, and the phone calls as we tried to work out how to make a new system work, my delight and wonder as people who had never done it before adapted to new ways of communicating, my happiness at how people who claimed to be "afraid" of tech discovered that they could do this, and evenmore than that, that they could help others...and my unbounded admiration at people's determination and commitment to mutual support, contact and involvement.

I wouldn't want to go through those weeks again. 

I never want to say that they were a blessing. 

But there was blessing in them, as we learned what we actually were capable of, and how much we could learn, adapt, and most particularly, care.

And for those blessings, and all that they have brought to us since, I will never cease to be grateful....

 

March 15 2023

Including

As a congregation, we belong to a variety of networks - and we have just joined a new one. We are now glad to be part of the Inclusive Church Network. The statement of Inclusion from the network is this; 

“We believe in inclusive church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate.

We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

You can read more about them here. Inclusive Church (inclusive-church.org)

It is a delight to be part of this network, and we hope that we can contribute effectively. 

 

March 8 2023

Dreaming

On Sunday, we are having what we are calling our Big Dream Sunday - we will share lunch after the service, and then spend some time in the afternoon dreaming of the future; who might we be, what might we do, where might we go.

It won't be a time for decisions and solid planning (that will come later), it will be a time to "dream dreams and see visions", to encourage and support one another as we think about who we are, what we value, and what it might look like to live that in the next few years.

Of course, looking ahead is always a risk - who knew what the last few years were going to be like as we came to the end of 2019; so all our dreaming and planning and looking ahead is provisional.

But it is none the less important for that. It matters because we will move into the future, like it or not. Things will not be as they are now, because that is the nature of things! And while we can't decide and pin down everything that will happen. and make it just as we think it ought to be, if we do not dare to dream, we might just miss some of the possibilities that are there for us. The danger is not so much that we will overplan, but that we will assume that the future will mirror the past. 

But the Kingdom of which we dream and for which we live is not simply a continuation of what we know; rather, it is the possibility of something new, something that will surprise us.  

As we make our way through Lent, we are preparing for Easter; the time when new life breaks in and changes all the rules. God-willing, that will shape our dreaming this Sunday...

 

March 1st 2023

Lent and slowing down....

We're a week into Lent now (if you want a daily thought for Lent, check our facebook page; Grove Lane Baptist Church Congregation). And it is two and half weeks since I finally tested negative, after having Covid.

Lent is a time for taking things deeply, making time for reflection, prayer, specific attention as we notice where we are, have a spiritual check-in or check-up as it were, and prepare for Easter celebrations. 

And I am still struggling with being tired and just not right.

Can these two things be brought together, I wonder.

I hope so...I am hoping that, because I am having to take more time over things, I will be more mindful, more engaged, more present to what I am doing, instead of flying off to the next thing before I finish the first, or trying to do too many things at once resulting in doing none of them with my full attention, and maybe even noticing how I am responding to what I am doing. 

Lent calls us to slow down and notice; notice where we are, notice how our relationship with God, with people, with God's world is doing - and sometimes that feels too much, there isn't time, there's so much to do....

But I can't do it all at the moment. So, perhaps I am in the unusually fortunate position of realising that what is annoying and frustrating me can actually be a gift...an unexpected blessing. 

And as I struggle with the weariness, I am reminded of just how many people I know who live with weariness, pain, chronic illness or acute conditions over a long-term, and am challenged to pray properly, and not just God bless so-and-so....

This seems a good Lent.....

 

Feb 15 2023

Of cookers and creativity

There's a lot goes on in our building; Day Centre, Toddlers, Youth Groups, collecting for foodbank and other agencies.

And it all goes well - most of the time. Things go well because there are people, there is equipment, there is commitment...

But sometimes it goes wrong, and we realise just how much we depend on the creativity, flexibility and sheer willingness to do it of our amazing volunteers. At the moment, our range has failed - and we are still managing to feed our Day Centre clients because people are coming up with new and different ways of preparing the food and making sure hygiene and safety standards are still maintained. 

Our Youth Group has its winter camp at the end of this week, and one of the leaders is unwell, thus causing quite a strain on the others - but, as of just now at least, the camp is going ahead, because the young people are looking forward to it, and the leaders are coming up with creative ways to ensure their safety and support so that the event is as rich as it can be.

And I could go on....things go well, not because everything is easy, or we are well supplied with resources. Things go well because of the amazing people who "do what it takes", sometimes at considerable cost to themselves.

So, today, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers who make things happen.

And to remind anybody reading this that we are always in need of volunteers, especially drivers for Day Centre and leaders for the youth groups....if you can help, please get in touch.

 

 

Feb 8 2023

Lost for words

I had intended to write a witty and sparkling blog about losing my voice and what it feels like....but the world happens, and the earthquake takes away any words that have meaning, except Lord, have mercy. 

If you wish to give, here is the link for Christian Aid's appeal

https://www.christianaid.org.uk/

Feb 2 2023

On not doing what is good for you.....

I don't write much about Manse Dog - she deserves her privacy - but since she is largely Church Dog too, I thought I would use her as an illustration this week.

You see, she has a poorly leg at the moment; it doesn't seem to be causing her pain exactly. She makes no whimpering or anything. But when walking fast, or dancing as she regularly does, it is clear that her rear left leg is not working properly. She holds it off the ground, and at times it seems to give way.

We have visited the vet, and been given treatment and advice on how to manage her best until she recovers.

We've been given the advice - she doesn't seem to have heard it!

"Don't let her jump up or climb stairs at the moment", says the vet.

Hmmmm.

"Build something she can climb on so that she can get on to your knee without jumping advise wise friends".

Hmmm.

As you can probably tell, this is not going well.. We've learnt that she will push away anything that is laid down to enourage her climb not jump....We're learning better than she is! All she is learning is that we are liable to say "no!" very firmly about things she has previously been allowed to do - and all that appears to achieve at the moment is to make her put her ears flat and look at us reproachfully.

We have explained...."it's for your own good", we say. "It will help you get better". "We're only trying to help".

But of course she can't understand....

What shall we say of the Kingdom of God; it is like a animal lover, who is trying so hard to look after an injured companion. And continually and gladly resorts to picking the dog up and carrying her, since she cannot understand what is best for her...

For underneath are the Everlasting Arms. 

 

 

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

Locked out

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. 

THANK YOU

 

Dec 15th 2022

Everyday generosity

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

Christmas Fair

       

 

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

St Andrew....

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

Cleaning up

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

Remembering

 

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

COP 27

 

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. 

Amen.

 

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. 

Be Kind....

 

Sep 9 2022

Change

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

Foodbanks

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...

Resilience and climate - Christian Aid

and this resource

Home - A Rocha International

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

Shhh....

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

Special Days

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

Celebrations

     

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.

Thank you

May 11 2022

Hospital Visiting

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

The weather...

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

CheadleClimateAction.org and there are many other places that give advice and ways to connect - for example A Rocha UK – Caring for God's Earth and  Friends of the Earth | Home and many others....

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 

Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal | Disasters Emergency Committee (dec.org.uk)

 

BMS Ukraine appeal - BMS World Mission

 

March 2nd 2022

Ash Wednesday

 

 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.