A Minister's Blog
Archived Posts 2020 - 2021
Dec 22nd 2021
The angels' song.
The angels reputedly said to the shepherds; "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all".
Today, my blog starts with a quotation from a facebook post from one of our wise members...Christmas is saved! Not by any action or inaction by the government But by the young girl who came to our Saturday Foodbank collection with two cardboard trays of tins she'd collected from neighbours. By the woman of good will who has involved us in collecting warm coats for the Afghan refugees placed (dumped?) in our area, By the hats and scarves knitted for rough sleepers. And the list could go on. The Christmas story we tell is messy and chaotic but it is overflowing with love. Love doesn't need to be "saved". Love saves us.
And to that list I want to add the two wee girls, of 8 and 9, who saved up their pocket money to buy large donations of much needed goods for the foodbank. And the three car loads of goods taken to the foodbank following Saturday's giving (and the extra brought by the person who couldn't get there on Saturday, and drove to church on Sunday morning before the service to drop off three large bags...
And the box of pasta and baked beans that was delivered to another foodbank because they can use it...
And the people who turn up faithfully week by week, in rain, sun, snow, wind to reeive donations and deliver them...
And the hampers delivered via social services to folks who would otherwise be without, supplied through gifts from the congregation, and gifts from those who attend Youth Groups....
"Good will" said the angels; not proper beliefs, or correct theology. Not power or influence or high profile. Not force or winning or beating down the other, or closing the borders or defeating the enemy or using connections to win a large contract.
That's the Christmas message.
Christmas doesn't need saved. Christmas saves us. Because Christmas is the promise that goodwill to all is the gift that goes on giving.
Dec 15th 2021
An unexpected gift!
On Saturday, we discovered a tree outside the church - hardly surprising, given that we have wonderful grounds with many trees...but this was a Christmas tree, with the note "for church or for somebody who needs it". We couldn't find anybody who needed it (our contacts through foodbank had been able to supply all sorts of trees to people through other generous gifts.) And so we decided to put it up in the grounds, so it can be seen by those going past.
A generous gift from people we don't really know, but to whom we are so grateful. And our gift, to share with neighbours, and join in the amazing lights that are illuminating the neighbourhood.
What a lovely parable; we have been blessed by somebody's generosity, and in turn we can bless others....
It's a Christmas not exactly miracle, but definitely delight!
Dec 8th 2021
It's that time of year again....
The filling of hampers is as regular a part of a Grove Lane Christmas as the tree, the carols and the cards....boxes of gifts of food and treats put together, to be distributed through social services to those we will never meet, but who are in need of a helping hand. There is money given by adults and boxes decorated by amazing people to be filled with the resources thus purchased, and there are boxes decorated and filled with gifts brought to our Youth Group meetings...
I celebrate this - and it makes me angry! I am delighted - and amazed! - at the generosity, financial and otherwise, that makes this happen, and delighted that there is a way of ensuring that some folk who wouldn't have do have.....
And I am angry that in a country in which nearly 450 000 tonnes of food is thrown away each year, in which supermarkets throw away the equivalent of 90 million meals a year, we have families who are depending on this to be able to have enough to eat at Christmas time. We have approximately 36500 people living in poverty in Stockport....and childhood poverty has increased in all but borough in Greater Manchester in the last year.
In the second week in Advent, traditonally the Church listens to the words of John the Baptist; the one who cried in the wilderness "make straight the paths" referencing the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of the day when "every valley shall be raised up, and every mountain laid low".
Levelling up was God's idea first....
Dec 1st 2021
A special day...
For today's blog, I am passing on a story that has been sent to me (passing it on with permission)
A day in Day Centre....
Last Tuesday some of the clients played dominos - while others finished off the woollen hats they had been knitting, during the previous couple of weeks – and we celebrated the ninetieth birthday of one of the ladies.
Today, all of the clients played Bingo – and we celebrated the eighty-third birthday of another of the ladies.
After their meal, the clients moved back into the lounge – and a little old Indian lady, accompanied by a young man, in his thirties, entered the building. Then I remembered that the wife of Nick Dahr, a long time Day Centre helper, who had died about a year ago – had been in touch a couple of weeks ago – asking if the Day Centre had started up again – and, if so, could she and her son come and have a look at the Day Centre, where her husband had “so much” enjoyed being a helper.
Nick’s role had been to serve the clients with tea, or coffee, in the lounge before their meal – and again, after they had finished their meal. He was a quiet, gentle person who was clearly very proud to have been given the job of serving the clients.
Mrs Dahl and her son were taken to the lounge – and introduced to the clients, many of whom recalled fond memories of Nick – and after a short while – the Dahl’s left, accompanied by Arnold.
After seeing them off, Arnold told me that they had insisted that they pay for Today’s meal for all of the clients – explaining that this had been requested in Nick’s Will.
I ran into the car park to thank them for this very generous gift – but they had already left.
Returning, with Arnold to the lounge – we explained, to the clients, that the Dahl’s had insisted on paying for all of their meals – as Nick had asked in his Will.
There was an overwhelming atmosphere that something very special had happened, here, Today.
There are moments when something happens, the Kingdom flashes forth, and, without making it happen, we know we have been blessed.
Nov 24 2021
Things are afoot....
This Saturday, we have our Christmas Fair In The CarPark. It runs along side the foodbank collection we do every Saturday - and it is the beginning(ish) of Advent. On Sunday, wehave our service for the first Sunday in Advent, and even as I am typing this, various lightings-up, displays and general stuff is going on to get us into the beginning of the process of celebrating Christmas.
Every year in certain of the groups to which I belong, there is a general moaning that "it's Advent, not Christmas"...and I get it. It is good to take our time and prepare and notice that there is a journey to make from here to there. Advent has its own meaning and integrity, and we do miss out on something if we charge through it too fast. I appreciate moments to slow down, to think about the meaning of waiting, to wait for God's presence and promise and acknowledge that it isn't under my control, but in God's gift. I deeply value the moments of darkness and stillness that can come with our Longest Night service, which gives space to recognise loss and discover what it is to seek for God in that. I treasure the possibility of catching glimpses of the bigger story, the wider expanse of the purpose of God which is opened up as the journey towards the Christmas story is taken slowly and reflectively.
But - especially after all we have been through in these months - there is also place for celebration, for lights and colours and jollity and sheer fun!
And the richness of being the complex people that we are is that we can be both reflective and daft, we can take our time and rush ahead and both can be true, even in the same day.
So yes, bring it on; the Christmas Fair and the tree up for Advent Sunday and the Christmas music playing as I write the services for Advent - and the waiting, the delaying, the wonder and pause and sitting in the dark. John of the Cross, a mystic and poet of th 16th c wrote "the caverns of the soul are infinite". It's a phrase that holds all sorts of meanings, and I love it. And one of the meanings is surely that yes, I can be in two places, two states, to different approaches at once, and that is not a bad thing. It is part of the richness and delight of being human.
Nov 10 2021
We will remember
This is the week of Remembrance Day and of our Remembrance Sunday service; the point in the year when we take time and offer attention to remember those who have lost their life in conflict, and those who can never not remember, as they live with the ongoing effects of injuries, traumas and seeing, hearing and doing things they will never forget.
It is a complex day, with a great deal of emotion attached to it - and it has not become any easier in recent years with a certain kind of politicisation.
But just because something is hard does not mean we should not do it. Indeed, perhaps because it is hard is all the more reason to pay attention, and to do it as well as we can.
And so on Sunday, we will remember. We will use images, words and silence to make our remembering as honest as possible, to avoid any suggestion that we are either glorifying or minimising the memories. And at the heart of it will be the prayer of all the people of God; they kingdom come, thy will be done - a prayer for a just peace, a sustainable way of life, and flourishing for all.
Nov 3 2021
In the run up to the current COP26 gathering, a campaigning group of which we are part, Cheadle Climate Action, has had a poster campaign running (The picture above is one of our posters in June).
It has been one of the ways in which as individuals, and some of us representing our congregations (from churches and from the Mosque) have been committing ourselves to the world-wide calls to those who have power to do something that will actually make a difference.
As a campaign, it has been effective; it has brought more people to join our group, it has brought us into contact with those in local government so that we can have useful conversations about policy in our neighbourhodd, and it has annoyed enough people, that in various places our posters have been taken down.
And now we are into the gathering, and statements are being made, and negotiations are underway and all we can do is hold our breath.
Actually, of course, that is not "all" we can do. For poster campaigns, handing out leaflets, lobbying politicians, even offering our prayers are not enough.
The call here is not simply to campaign for change; it is to be change, to do things differently, to live in the way we are calling the world to live.
I am proud of our campaign, and our lobbying of politicians, of our determination to influence those with power.
And I am proud to be part of a community that takes the issues seriously enough that individual are actually makign different choices, and changing how they live. May God grant us all the grace and courage to live what we speak, so that our love for our neighbours currently suffering the realities of drought, fire, flood and famine will not just be words, but will have real results.
Oct 27 2021
I have currently lost my voice - it used to be a frequent experience, but it hasn't happened recently. It's always an interesting time. I notice several things.
Firstly, I realise how much I usually talk- maybe too much! It is an interesting moment to notice that the world carries on even if I can't say anything. Maybe what I say isn't quite as important as I think it is.
Secondly, I notice how people either talk to me as if my hearing is also impaired, and so raise their voices, or feel that if I am whispering, they need to whisper too. I'm not at all sure what that is about....though it may be something to do with empathy; people trying to connect with what they perceive as my experience and enter into it. Either way, it always makes me smile, and that helps.
Thirdly, I discover just how tiring it is to commuicate in other ways. This is a very good reminder how much I normally take it for granted that it is easy to make myself heard. This is very salutory - the privilege to be heard is one I can very easily take for granted. Being deprived of it, however temporarily and partially is a just the slightet glimpse of how too many people experience the world - and then it leaves me wondering what I might do to change that?
And fourthly, I think that I might be thinking too much, and it's time to stop. But if I meet you in the next few days and don't speak, please don't take it personally! I'll be talking as much as usual very soon!!
Oct 21 2o21
These sets have become so familiar recently! Did you ever think you would be doing medical tests on yourself at home? I didn't! But I am doing this on a regular basis (so far, negative each time). And I know that several others in the fellowship are also doing it regularly - some because of work, some because of being ill and needing to know what stage things are at, some to feel safe coming out and about.
It's not the most comfortable experience, but it is important. And the discomfort can be a helpful reminder that this is something that matters, something we do for other people's sake. Not that I want to suggest that discomfort carries some sort of moral value - if there was a comfortable test, I'd be right there for it.
But given that it is uncomfortable, it is a reminder that caring for one another is not just a simple task. It will sometimes have a cost, it may make us feel awkward, or ask of us that which has a cost....as the poster says, "when Jesus said "love your neighbour", it was in the knowledge that your neighbour would be different, sometimes difficult, would not do what you want; but love them anyway....!"
And if that means taking a test that makes me gag, I pray for the grace to do it gracefully.
Oct 14 2021
We celebrated Harvest last weekend - back in the building. And a good time was had by all...
I remember as a child, Harvest was a straightforward festival; we brought plants and tins to church, and they were shared with others.
As I grew older, themes of food injustice and unequal development began to become important; the famines in Biafra, and later in Ethiopia, the Brandt report and television pictures that showed the reality of starvation meant that the sense of celebrating plenty became infused with a recognition that it was not straighforward...
And in the last decades, as we have become aware of the dangers to our environment - and even more, our responsibilities for our environment, another layer has been added; giving thanks, offering to care, and repenting and resolving.
Part of me is sad to lose the early innocence of just saying thank you.
But I am also grateful for more understanding, for a wider sense of the world, a recognition of our interdependence.
Not least, because now, as we celebrate, we do it with reality, in the real world, as real people.
And where else are we going to find God...?
Oct 6 2021
Over the last few weeks, things have gradually been restarting in the building; the youth groups are meeting, the Day Centre has recently restarted, and some one-off events have also taken place.
This weekend, our Harvest Festival, is also our Big Return Weekend; we have a social on Saturday evening (all welcome - bring your own picnic) and on Sunday, our Harvest Festival service (again, all welcome, please bring a gift for Wellspring, and a mask)
It is really exciting. It feels like so long since we have been able to do this....and "this" that we will do will not be exactly "that" which we we used to do. But we will be together and play games and eat in the same space, and we will meet on a Sunday morning, and sing (seated and behind masks) and pray and listen and talk together....it is another step into the new world that we are exploring.
So - if you would like to come, please do. It would be lovely to welcome you. And if you are not ready (or not able) to come to the building, we are continuing our zoom link, so drop us an email for that, if you don't have it and would like to join in.
Sept 29 2021
A Mayoral Reception!
Yesterday evening I attended a reception for faith group leaders that was hosted by the Mayor of Stockport. It was a very pleasant and informative occasion. The Mayor, Adrian Nottingham, spoke with us about his hopes for the borough and his understanding of how the churches in particular might be part of the "building back" which as a community we are seeking to do in this new context.
Much of what he said, and what we discussed will become clearer over the next months, but my main impression as I come away is hearing the words in Jeremiah's call ringing in my ears; "Seek the welfare of the city...and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare".
We are involved in various ways in "seeking the welfare" of our community - most clearly recently on Saturday morning, with our various collections. And it is a delight that the reopening of Day Centre means that another part of our "seeking of welfare" is back in operation. These are really important parts of what it means to be "the people of God in our place for our time". As we plan our move back into the building (more on that next week) I believe it is really important that we carry on with our "outside" presence in the car park - and maybe even seek to develop it, even as we seek to do more with and in the building.
And I am convinced that the call is not simply to do, but also to pray. So our praying for our neighbourhood, for the community of which we are a part, and for the institutions that sustain it are also important - not simply praying for people individually, though clearly that matters, but praying for our wellbeing together, the ways in which as a society we might live so that all can flourish and be safe.
One of the most significant aspects of that is our commitment to campaigning around climate care; for all of us, longterm, the changes that are needed to sustain our world are central. So - this afternoon at about 3pm, we will be outside the church to encourage those who are walking to Glasgow to be present at COP 26 - and we will be attending the meeting this evening in Cheadle Parish Church at 7.30. If you are able to be there, that would be great. Together, we can witness to the call of God to care for the world, and we can pray for the welfare of the city.
Sept 1 2021
How did it get to be today...
Three years ago this weekend, it was my induction service here. I had been around for a couple of months beforehand working my way in, but I started fulltime following the induction.
And half of the time I have been here has been in this weirdness of lockdown and closed buildings and generally making it up as we go along....
It's been an interesting three years.
And I wouldn't have missed it for the world! It has been a time of getting know people, and structures and stories; of saying goodbye in funerals, and hello as people have come to find us, and what next as we have tried to work out how to do the stuff that matters in a situation than none of us had any practice in. It's been a time of great joy and deep sadness (sometimes on the same day!), of learning more deeply what it is to be enclosed in a community, and supported by it, of finding skills - or trying to develop them - that I didn't know I had, and rediscovering bits of my brain than had been left too lazy for too long. It's been a joy to lead worship, and to be led, especially in prayer. It's been a wonder to feel ourselves welcomed and accepted just as we are - and Maizie-Dog in particular would like to say thank you for the welcome. It's been moments of despair and frustration, usually because I've messed up the photocopying again (or more recently, because zoom has not done what I expected!). It's been times of bewilderment, as I have wondered what I have to say or to offer in particular situations, of learning to react and adapt quickly as new aspects come to light. It's been a whole new thing of understanding what a garden is and how to care for it (or not!). It's been new friends, and good conversations, and settling in.
So today, just to say thank you; to the congregation, to the community associated with Grove Lane, and to God.
August 25 2021
The Sam Sharpe Lecture
As I was preparing to write this week's blog, an email arrived from the Baptist Union, giving details of this year's Sam Sharpe Lecture, and it seems to me a good thing to pass on this information. So, I quote the email...
The Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Jamaica Baptist Union are committed to walking the ways of God’s justice. One demonstration of this joint commitment is The Sam Sharpe Project. Sam Sharpe was hanged in Montego Bay on 23 May, 1832 after initiating and leading a revolt for justice. Just before his execution he said: ‘I would rather die upon yonder gallows, than live in slavery.’ The revolt and Sharpe’s actions played a huge role in British parliamentary deliberations, and ultimately the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. It is this legacy the Sam Sharpe Project seeks to build upon by promoting his story and exploring his relevance in today’s context. The Sam Sharpe annual lectures, an idea conceived by Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, a Partner of the Sam Sharpe Project, remains its key educational resource.
This year's Sam Sharpe lecture will be delivered by Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid.
Lecture 2021 – Thursday 21 October
'Setting The Captives Free – forging the paths to freedom'
Please do make a note of the date - I will post a reminder nearer the time. But this is important stuff. Understanding the bits of history that we have often not heard about much is a significant part of hearing the truth of which we are a part, and more fully understanding the way the world is.
It is about knowing the truth that sets us free; setting us free from misunderstanding, from only knowing half the story, from being limited to our own viewpoint, set free to live in a larger world.
Do join in if you can.
August 18 2021
There are some days when there is just nothing left to say; either life is too full of stuff (see the news at the moment, when so much seems to be happening, and most of it overwhelming), or there are too many feelings (we have had rather a lot of mourning going on in the community at the moment) or life is tiring (see - pandemic!)
And this is one of those times, for me at least.
The problem with the times when there is nothing to say is that we tend to feel we should still carry on speaking...
If we are with somebody who is mourning, we can feel the need to say something - and if we can't find anything to say, it is tempting to avoid somebody's pain, rather than just giving the gift of listening. As we hear of the horrors and griefs in the news, we - or at least too many people - seem to need to say something, and we can find ourselves involved in discussions that are not edifying or helpful, rather than simply taking time to hear and understand. And when we are overwhelmed with life and its exhaustion, we can find complaining and snapping at those around us is just too easy, rather than just shutting up and having a rest.
So - rather than say something unhelpful, or unnecessarily contentious, I am going to say very little.
After all, as the verse says
There was an owl, lived in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Oh that we could all be like that wise old bird.....
August 4th 2021
We have had a message from Chelwood Foodbank to pass on their thanks for the donations that pass through our car park on a Saturday morning. One of the things that is most important about this giving is its regularity.
So- I am passing on the thanks in every way I can think of; here, and through our website and on our facebook page. If you are somebody who gives - either through the collection on a Saturday morning, through money gifts or via the Amazon link; somebody who makes it happen on a Saturday, and gets the deliveries to Chelwood; somebody who makes sure other people know about the need....indeed, anybody who is involved in any way, here is a huge
for all that you are doing.
Please don't stop. As school holidays approach, the need is ever greater - and at the moment, donations are dropping. If you can help, please do....and know just how much it means to people.
July 28 2021
Well, you kind of have to...
Talk about the olympics, I mean. After all, it is a pretty big thing in our world at the moment, and after all the delays and uncertainties, it is cheering to see it happening, and even more, to see how well so many of our team are doing.
And then there's the ones who don't succeed - who feel like, for whatever reason, they have let themselves, and those who have supported them, down.
I've been very struck by the distress that people have expressed when they feel like they have been less than they could have been, and the way in which that is spoken about in terms of apologising to those who have trained, have supported, have made sacrifices and have encouraged them.
And I have been even more struck by the way in which those friends and families, on being interviewed, have never in any way, suggested that they are angry or let down - they are always more concerned to care for and encourage the disappointed athlete.
I think this is an amazing model of what it is to be one body; to feel that interdependence. The recognition that, when I get it wrong, I am affecting not just myself, but others who care and support and have encouraged me. And when somebody I care for is less than perfect, the response does not need to be anger or blame - but is more support, and deeper reassurance.
Too often in congregations we have had a reputation of either not noticing when our failure to live up to our gospel calling has had an impact on the people around us - or of blaming (and excluding) others who have, we believe, let us down.
Watching the athletes who win has been inspiring (and has frequently made me ask "how do you do that??") But watching the responsibility expressed by those who have simply not been good enough on the day, and the love and encouragement of those who stand on the sidelines and watch has been deeply moving and challenging.
What could our congregation look like if we were even more able to live these values; and what might we offer to the community around us as we make these values ever more visible?
July 21 2021
Yes, I know, it's very boring to comment on the weather; we all know it's hot, and we're all surprised, because it never happens, and there are many more interesting things to talk about.
But, it's hot!
I confess, I am not a fan of hot weather (What can I say; I'm a Scot....I did not grow up with lots of heat!)
And there are things to say here about climate change and our reponsibility to do something about it.
But just at the moment, I am reflecting on something I heard on the radio that made me smile, and think... The person giving the weather forecast started by saying "it's going to be another lovely warm day"....which is a phrase that always has me shouting at the machine saying "I don't like it...", and the voice went on "at least, lovely if you like hot weather, which I know not everybody does".
It was such a relief.
It doesn't change the weather, and Iam still uncomfortable. But it was such an affirming feeling to have it acknowledged that not everybody was delighted when the temperature passes 26 degrees.
And it makes me wonder about our life together; there are things we disagree about, preferences we have, choices we would like to see made and are disappointed or frustrated when it goes another way. I wonder how much attention we pay to at least acknowledging the differences among us, and paying attention to it.
The weather person can't make the weather different; but by at least saying that there are those of us who don't like it, I (and others) are not left feeling ignored or silenced - or as if we are weird. And that really helps.
So, now, please excuse me while I go and find the shade.....
July 14 2021
It's been a long time.
We welcomed a visitor to the manse today; a friend was travelling through, and got in touch to ask if he could come to lunch.
What joy! We were delighted to welcome him and shared a fun time - and Maizie was delighted.
But, I confess, I woke up this morning and suddenly thought "I need to tidy up!" There has been nobody but us chickens in the manse since about a couple of months before lockdown started. And, it's not that I've exactly neglected the place, - it's more that I just haven't done anything.
So, I got on with it, and did some cleaning, some tidying and some making it all reasonably welcoming again.
At one point, I realised that time was running out (there was also a meeting to attend this morning) and that all I was really going to be able to do was what my grandmother called "a lick and a promise".
I did make the place look ok, and tried not to notice that there were definitely areas I had skipped. And like the good preacher I try to be, I started to wonder what this might point out, and started to think about the tendency we all have to make things look good without actually sorting out the deeper issues and so on.
But then I had another thought; actually, getting the house (or, in illustrative mode - our lives, our selves, our organisations.....whatever it is we are reflecting on) to a position that is functional, even if not "perfect" is enough - indeed, is more than enough. The point is not to get it all perfect - the point is to get it (whatever "it" is) to a position that is functional and good enough to do whatever needs to happen, and then get on with whatever it is that needs to be done.
As we move into a new phase, there is going to be a lot of anxiety about what is the "right" thing to do. And it is proper to pay attention, and take the best decisions we can. But it is equally important that we do not let ourselves get paralysed by trying to get it "perfect" - good enough is good enough. And God is not dependent on our perfection to be present, at work and bringing the Kingdom.
June 30 2021
If you go down to the woods today....
...then I hope you won't get a big surprise, but might get a great delight, for in our bit of ground/woodland, we now have two bug hotels, courtesy of Deacon.... He decided where they would go and "furnished" them with twigs, wool and assorted welcoming "furniture".
One is high up on a tree, in order to welcome flying insects, and one is low down for those which crawl.
It is all part of our intention to care for the world we are part of and in particular for the little bit around our building. We know that we already share it with a fox, and a variety of birds, to say nothing of trees, grasses and flowers. There are of course insects already here - but we are hoping to encourage more, especially those whose habitat is otherwise threatened.
We are grateful to Deacon for this initiative, as we are to those who regularly come and care for grass, wild bits, borders and trees. We are grateful too to those who keep us alert to the big decisions that must be made and the campaigning that needs to happen to raise awareness and keep the issues on the agenda of the powerful - and as part of our own choosing.
We are stewards, invited by God to share in the care of creation. We are grateful for theways we have to do it, including these very practical ones.
June 23 2021
Later today, I am taking part in a conversation with representatives of other denominations, in the board of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. It is one of our regular meetings, reflecting on what has happened and what the direction of the organisation should be. It is an important forum that brings together people across theological traditions andhelps us to do things together.
Yesterday, I spent some time with folk from several other local churches, in the context of Churches Together in Cheadle Hulme, as we began to plan a service together to mark both our sense of loss and our commitment to hope.
Both events are worthwhile, offering creative possibilities and bringing together people of wisdom and skill.
And they represent so much more than that. It is just about within living memory when congregations from different traditions had little if anything to do with one another, when mutual suspicion and mistrust was taken for granted, and when the convictions that separated us were much more important than the common ground which we shared.
We have moved so far in such a relatively short time - and it is easy to take it for granted, and even regard it as now unimportant. But our ecumenical relationships, our friendships with other congregations, our shared activities, commitment to be "with" one another rather than "against" one another, is hard won, and could disappear if we forgetto stay invested.
So that is why I spend time at the board meetings and in the planning meetings...that, and the delight of sharing with people of wisdom, creativity and insight is a gift I do not want to lose.
June 16 2021
Taking care and responding to need
Since the current weirdness began, we having been seeking ways to continue our involvement in serving our community. We have long been part of support for the foodbank based in Chelwood, and it has been important not only to keep that up, but o take it further; the need has increased during lockdown and shows no sign of diminishing.
By moving our collection to a specific time and place (Saturday mornings in the car park) and by developing our communication about it (though we could do more - suggestions always welcome) we have increased the amount of donations and increased the number of donors, since we have now developed quite a regular group of people who come to put something in thed car boot from around the neighbourhood.
This is such a welcome development, and delight to be part of. Exchanging books, sharing coffee, patting dogs -it's all part of a Saturday.And at its heart is care for neighbours and mutual support.
We should not need foodbanks.
But since we do, I am so grateful to be part of a church committed to supporting one, and so glad to live in a community where so many take time and effort to shar resources.
And if you can spread the news, please do. And if you would like to be invovled in facilitating the Saturday collection, then please let me know; there's always room for more volunteers.
June 9 2021
Talking and listening
Today is our monthly gathering to consider and reflect - and discern together - the life of our congregation. When we are using the building normally, we meet together for an evening, sit in a circle and converse. We call it church meeting.
At the moment, when we can't meet in the building, we meet on zoom - and we hear reports, and discuss. We call it Not-the-Church-Meeting.
We are doing the same thing; we are talking and listening in each other's presence and in the presence of the Risen Lord, seeking to hear and discern what our life together should look like.
We need each other in this; we need to hear each other's insights, and listen to one another's points of view. We draw on one another's wisdom and experience, and give space to one another to speak.
And at our best, in the leading of the Spirit, we come together to conclusions and make plans to serve, to worship, to follow.
Church meeting (or even Not-the-Church-Meeting) can feel like so many issues on an agenda to get through, or a place of tension and the need to convince others, or win our position. It can feel like a duty to get through or a site of boredom.
But it is so much more than this - or at least has the potential to be so. It is a place and context in which we are seeking to work out on the ground - in our day-to-day community life, and as a part of a broader neighbourhood - just what our good words about following Jesus, loving our neighbour, trusting in God and responding to need actually mean.
Following Jesus is a whole-life activity, as we know. The plans and decisions we make as a congregation are the context in which we explore how to translate wonderful words about faith, love and hope into activity, spending, building and meeting our neighbours.
Thank you for being part of it and taking it seriously.
June 2nd 2021
On a Saturday morning when we are collecting donations for the foodbank, we also have a box for people to put in requests for prayer.
There has never been anything in it.
Until this week.
I was handed a slip of paper that had been tucked into the box.....
A shopping list!
And so we joked about the way in which our prayers can sometimes be rather like a shopping list, and the way in which this slip of paper might make a good sermon illustration (though in fact, it is turned up in this blog instead...!)
But I've been thinking about it ever since. I've been wondering what was in the mind of the person who slipped it into the box - did they have an intention? Did they mean to put in a prayer request and put in the wrong paper? Were they making a deep point about the way in which prayer can indeed become a shopping list - and were they perhaps raising an issue about the model of prayer that this box and the invitation to leave requests actually portrays?
Or was it simply a useful place to get rid of a bit of paper that was no longer needed (in itself, an interesting model of prayer; the place and context in which we can get rid of things we no longer nee....!)
I have no idea what was going on - if anything - in slipping that shopping list into the prayer box. But it has been a helpful spur to think about what this prayer box is for and how it might work. I haven't come to any conclusions yet.If anybody has any suggestions, please let me know. In the meantime, the box will still appear....and we will look and see what is inside it with hope and expectation!
May 26 2021
How are you?
No, but really - how are you?
It was a question a friend asked recently. The message had come through "how are you doing?" and I was all set to answer it with my normal kind of comment, "fine" or "fed up but fine" or even the particularly honest "actually doing quite well; lockdown is a way of life that suits me!" when it was followed up with "no, but really, how are you?"
And it made me stop and think.
I thought about various things, and one of them was just how easy it is to give the simplest - not necessarily untrue, but probably incomplete - answer to this kind of question. Not because I want to deceive, or even because I don't want to be honest about how I am. But because I don't really know...I am not really paying attention.
I'm paying attention to my physical health, of course; we all are. For other's sake if not our own, it is important to know how we are, and to notice where and if we are not well.
And I thought I was paying attention to the rest of me too. But this made me wonder. I suspect I've just found a convenient way of answering this question for myself as well as others, that keeps us all content, and haven't paid too much attention since.
And more significantly, I wonder if I might have stopped asking others properly; as long as somebody tells me they have not got Covid, and have recovered from vaccine side-effects, have I asked anything else.....?
Paying attention takes energy, and it takes looking beyond the immediate. It is easy for it to slip, especially when life has been as demanding and confusing it has it been recently.
It seems to me that one of the things that people respond to in Jesus is that he pays attention; how often we read "he knew what they were thinking/what was in their hearts", or we hear him ask somebody "what do you want me to do?" - instead of assuming he knew. He notices. And he gives the context for people to be honest.
Maybe it is as we dare to receive that from Jesus that we are able to offer it to ourselves and to others.
So - how are you? How are you really?
May 19 2021
The start of something....
It may not look much - a circle of empty chairs. But it is the beginning of something. Some weeks ago, we had a photo of the youth group meeting in the space, and here is the layout for another set of meetings this week.
And this moring, a circle of chairs in the building signalled the beginning of a meeting to discuss how and when to re-open Day Centre.
A survey out with folk who attend is exploring possibilities of restarting our main worship gathering in the building on a Sunday (or even in the garden, when it's sunny....!)
They are all small things - but they are all the promise of something big; not necessarily "life as it was", but "life as it is" - recognisable and also new, the same and different.... it is exciting, daunting, hopeful and scary. It is a gift, and one we can seek to embrace - thankful for those who will embrace it with us.
May 12 2021
Christian Aid Week
We appear to have lost our banner this year; but we will (shortly!) have bunting. And we are still
doing all the things we do to be involved in this week.... there are sponsored walks, a Big Brekky,
door to door delivery of envelopes - and this year an extra; a bucket at our regular Saturday
Foodbank Collection time.
Because in the words of a previous Christian Aid slogan "We believe in life before death". And what's
more, we want to be involved both in living it, and in enabling it to flourish throughout the world.
There is a saying around at the moment about vaccination for Covid-19; "nobody's safe until
everybody's safe". We believe, "nobody is living fully until everybody is living fully" - and it is a
privilege as well as a duty to be part of making that true.
May 5 2021
One of my regular routines these days is my daily "delivery walk"; for those who are not online, I take a wander round and put the daily through the door. It is a good excuse to leave the house, and gives me a good time to breathe, stretch and keep moving (and during May, I am using it to raise money for Christian Aid - thanks to all who are supporting me. You can support here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ruth-gouldbourne?newPage=True )
It sometimes is quite a thought to go out - especially when the rain is bad or the wind is strong. So, knowing that it is in order to do something(deliver) not just exercise my knees is quite a good incentive.
It is also good thinking and reflecting time, and space to let ideas float around. Walking can be very conducive to new things emerging.
One of my most creative friends frequently uses the phrase "solvitur ambulando"; "it is solved by walking". It is a phrase that turns up in all sorts of places - and is apparently credited to St Augustine.
Whatever - whoever said it first, it carries a multiplicity of meanings, many of which are helpful at the moment.
When we can get out for a walk, the world can feel better, especially in our current situation; we solve some of our frustrations and closed-in-ness, and isolation by walking and walking in company.
Our minds do work differently when we walk - the exercise is good for thinking and there is also the benefit of blood flow and oxygen uptake which does affect our thinking, and if we can get outside, there are views, new things to see and hear, a different sort of stimulation.
It also has a bigger, perhaps more symbolic meaning - as we face multiple choices, decisions and uncertainties, we can feel paralysed. By setting out - doing something, however small, we start a journey, and all sorts of things can become possible. We can sometimes feel tempted to stay still until we know where we are going, what the decision should be, how things are going to turn out. All too often that simply results in nothing happening, as we get overwhelmed by too many possibilities and don't know where to turn.
Starting - on anything - might just unstick us. When I am encouraging students who are stuck on essays, I tell them to write something; it may turn out to be rubbish, but at least there is then something to work on. And chances are, it won't be rubbish at all, and they are well on the way.
Solvitur ambulando - as we try to work out what next, how to be this people for this time in this place, lets take the first steps, and see where we end up....
Thank you for your companionship on this walk.
April 28 2021
A voice to listen to....
As a Baptist Union, we have elected Hayley Young to be our President starting May next year. You
can read about the election, and about Hayley here
The role of the President of the BUGB is a strange one. Service is one year as President, with the pre-
ceding year being Vice-President and the next year being Past President. Each of these years has its
own duties and encounters - and then it is all over....
The President's role is to speak to and for the community as a whole. But in just a short time - and
then other voices will be heard.
In some years we have struggled to have any nominations as a national community - this year, we
had a choice of four nominees. Maybe it is because, with all the wonderful support and advice, and
so much time spent interacting online in ways that have not been necessary orf possible previously,
our sense of belonging together as aBaptist community is stronger than it has been? May be it was
anxiety that we were struggling to find nominees thatmeant more peoplethan previously were
willing to stand. Maybe it is just one of the unaccountable things that happen... Whatever the reason,
it is surely a good thing that more voices are on offer, and more participation is possible.
And I think it is without doubt that as we isten to Hayley's voice - her theme is "Build a Bigger Table"
we will hear something important to listen to. So, I am grateful to her for standing (and to the
others) and I am glad that she has been elected. Lets pray for her and listen to her in the next
years...and discern what God is saying to us, here and now, about what a bigger table at Grove Lane
might look like.
sApril 21 2021
A wonderful sight and sound
This is the picture of one of our youth groups meeting in the garden last evening...and there had been a similar meeting of one of the other groups the evening before!
Yes, it's still distanced, and yes, there are still restrictions on what can be done.
But it is the picture of hope and promise. After a year when we couldn't do this, here it is happening! And it promises so much more - I'm going to resist the temptation to call what is happening a "return" to anything, and certainly steer clear of any word like "normality"....it is the promise of something new emerging, in continuity, but also new and ready for a different world.
For things are different, if for no other reason than we have gone through something huge and as yet un-understood. We are, none of us, the same people we were when this started. We would have changed anyway, in a year of experiences and growth and discoveries. But this has been a year that has forced particular experiences and growth and discoveries. And in a strange way, although so much of this year has been about separation, we have been united in new ways. Because we have all gone through this, and that is an unusual experience. We will have had different experiences and meanings and struggles and joys - but there is a binding together of those who have lived through this, not just locally, or even nationally, but world-wide.
And so it is not the same world as the one we knew a year ago.
Pray God we have wisdom and insight enough to take what is good and life-giving from all this and share it.
And this picture is an image of that hope....the commitment and creativity of the leaders in keeping the groups going and the determination of the youngsters to stay involved. For all this, we give thanks.
And for what is to come, we pray grace.
April 4 Easter Day 2021
Imagine a reminiscing
We went to the tomb to do what needed to be done. It was our last gift to the one who had given so us so much. We got there just as the morning was breaking.
He wasn't there.
We told the others, but they didn't believe us, that a woman's testimony is worth nothing.
But we know what we saw....and didn't see.
We went back later.
And we know what we saw and heard.
Nothing will ever be the same.
April 3 2021 Holy Saturday
Imagine you are listening to a reminisince
It was a day of walls closing in.
He was behind a huge stone in a hole, shut away, lost to us.
We were behind the walls in that room, the doors locked, afraid, distraught, confused and without hope.
How had it come to this?
What were we supposed to do now?
Were they going to come for us next?
After all he had said about having faith, trusting the Father, the Kingdom..... why this?
We sat and stared at the walls.
April 2 2021 Good Friday
Imagine you are listening to a reminiscing...
The crowd came from nowhere; we were in the garden that he loved, and suddenly it was full of people shouting and soldiers waving spears.
Judas - he pointed him out; that man who had spent years with us, listened like we had, eaten at the same table, laughed at the same jokes, walked the same miles.....
And he just went with them.
The trial was a mockery - the witnesses were primed what to say, and there was no way out.
One of us went with him to the Governor's Palace - but I hear he kept himself in the background.
The rest of us - I'm ashamed to say...
The rest of us ran away. If he could be taken, then what hope for us.
And - I'm even more ashamed to say - we thought, if he's given up, why should we risk our lives.
We did come later to stand and watch.
Have you ever seen anybody die on a cross.
There is nothing glorious, nothing herioc, nothing humane about it.
It is degradation, pain, exposure, dehumanising.
When it was over we went home....
April 1 2021 Maundy Thursday
Imagine you are listening to a reminiscing...
Early the next day, he sent us back into the city. We thought, well, maybe this was it. After all, it was the day of the feast, so maybe this made sense to be the day when he would bring the crowds together and - well, do whatever it was he was going to do to take back the Kingdom. Or whatever.....
Anyway, we were pretty excited, and when he told us to go and find somebody through a secret sign (a man carrying water - how weird does he want to be!) we realised he had been making preparations we weren't aware of, and that made us all the more convinced something was about to happen.
We found the man, and he took us to the room that was prepared, and we got the meal ready.
The excitement was mounting. It was the feast of freedom. It was just the right time to rouse the people, and bring the Kingdom.
We got really excited and started discussing (well, if I'm honest, arguing!) about which of us was going to have what job - again, if I'm honest, what honour! After all, we'd been with him in the hard times....so surely we deserved the good times to (which is a bit ironic when you look back on it)
It wasn't the friendliest of arguments. By the time we got to the mealtime, we were all a bit on our high horses.
I suppose that's why nobody wanted to do the foot cleaning bit. We normally took it in turns, but this evening....
Well, there we all were, everybody uncomfortable and dusty, and nobody wanting to get the bowl, because that would mean accepting the slave's role, and we were out to prove to him that we were worthy of high office.
Then he took the bowl and the towel, and - well, we all felt a bit small.
Not that he blamed us or anything.
He just did what needed to be done.
Then he took the bread and broke it,he took the wine and blessed it...
And we realised it wasn't going to be what we expected.....
March 31 2021 Wednesday of Holy Week
If you were to listen in to a reminiscing...
It's kind of hard to remember the exact events of the week and the order in which they happened, but there was one day we didn't go into the city. We were staying at this house in Bethany - the folks there had been really supportive and always welcomed us in. Well - the brother had died, and then he wasn't dead, and it did cause a bit of trouble, but it's a long story....
Anyway, we were staying there, and we were tired - and a bit grumpy, if truth were told. And he was a bit - preoccupied is the best word I can think of. So the girls said we'd have a really nice meal, and a quiet evening, and maybe everybody would feel better in the morning.
So we didn't do much during the day, and in the evening, it was a lovely meal. And we were all relaxing and it was beginning to feel a bit normal again.
She came in from nowhere. We didn't know her - well, we recognised her, but she's not the sort of woman you invite in. You know....
Anyway, she got this jar of ointment - they've all got them, keep them for their wedding celebration you know - she broke it open and started to pour it all over him.
That stopped the party!
I mean....you don't do that sort of thing, not if you're a respectable woman. Which says it all. And you don't accept it if you're a respectable man! Which, now I come to think of it, is a bit more problematic...
The guy who cared for our finances spoke up "this could have been sold and the money given to the poor". Which seemed like a good thing to say...I mean, so much of his teaching was about how we should not hoard or build bigger barns or worry about saving, but we should feed the hungry.
Turns out it was entirely the wrong thing to say!
He started to speak about burial, and how she was anointing him now because she wouldn't be able to later, and how it was something people would go on talking about....
He was very strange that week. He took incidents we thought we understood (I mean, when a woman like that comes in and starts with the anointing, you know where it's going...!) and told us something completely different.
We really didn't get it!
March 30 2021 Tuesday of Holy Week
If you were to listen in to a reminiscing;
After all that excitement at the Temple, we thought the next day might be more of the same! Maybe we would go to the Governor's palace and tackle him. Maybe we would lead the people in a great uprising, and challenge the soldiers, and maybe....
We woke early, all ready to see where he would lead us today.
And sure enough, we went to the Temple.
But it was all very low-key.
He settled into one of the preaching platforms, and started to talk; about a vineyard owner whose slaves killed the son who came to gather the harvest, about what it meant to pay taxes, about loving God with our whole selves....
We'd heard it all before.
We thought we might get a bit more action if we drew his attention to the Temple again - a bit like yesterday. But all he said was it "will" fall - no saying when or how.
If I'm honest, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. The parade, the riot - and now this.
The only really dramatic bit was when he pointed out some poor old woman putting tiny coins in the gift box, and told us she had given everything.
And even that we could hardly hear over the fanfares of all the rich men parading in and out to announce their gifts.
Then we went back to the house.
We were rather disappointed.
He looked disappointed too. As if he had tried hard to do something and it hadn't worked out.
What did it all mean?
March 29 2021. Monday of Holy Week
If you were to listen in to a reminiscing....
We thought we were going to the Temple to do the stuff you do at the Temple; present the sacrifice, say the prayers, wonder at the beauty, see people....
Turns out, we were there to be part of a riot.
It started out quietly enough. We arrived and prepared ourselves and went in. It was busy in the outer courts - people everywhere, animals penned up ready to be bought, birds squawking, the queues of pilgrims waiting to buy their sacrifices, or change their money so that they could pay the Temple Tax in the right coinage....
We followed him in - not really paying too much attention to him, if I'm honest. More in awe, wonder, confusion at the buildings and the busyness.
Because why wouldn't we be. Here is what it's all about. We've spent these years with him, listening to him talk about God, talk about the Kingdom, talk about how all that is at the centre of everything and how we just need to open our eyes to see it. And he was right; here we were at the centre of it all, where all the stuff about God and Kingdom and our freedom and our identity was made real.And all we needed to do was open our eyes to see it; to see the security and the stones of it, to be aware of the strength and solidity of it, and to know we belonged there. This is the place where God dwells, and we were in it, and going to be at home here.
Then we noticed he was muttering. He looked so sad! As if he was in such pain.
He walked faster and faster, round the stalls, looking at people's faces, watching them - there was one couple in particular that seemed to attract his attention. They had not got enough to pay for the doves they had clearly intended to buy. They had a baby with them...coming to dedicate him, perhaps. And they couldn't afford to.
That seemed to set him off. He shouted at the bird-seller.
Then he grabbed a set of cords from the table where some ox driver had laid it and he went at it; tables went flying, cages burst open, animals ran the length of the courtyard....and men were yelling and women were screaming, and babies were howling.
And the attendants were dashing for the priests and the priests were shouting for the soldiers....
We got him out of there. He was shaking and speechless.
And when it was all over, we asked "what WAS that?"
"It is written; my house shall be a house of prayer for ALL and they have made it a den of thieves".
You know, we haven't often seen him angry - but I notice a theme.
When people are shut out to make others feel safe, or let them make money.
When the religious get in the way of faith....
When the Kingdom is shut away.
March 24 2021
An anniversary we didn't want
This week we have marked a year since the first lockdown started.
This week, we have paid attention to what it has felt like to live, for a year, with the weirdness, the isolation, the anxiety and all the stuff we have had to become accustomed to over the last 12 months.
We have noticed, too, the new things we have learned, and the encouraging aspects of living that we have noticed in the last 52 weeks. The new techy skills, the increasing capacity to sustain relationships without the normal props, the kindness and care that strangers have shown one another, the willingness of people to volunteer to do what needs to be done; did you know that A LOT of people have volunteered to give the vaccines in order to enable the roll out to happen as fast as it is.....
We didn't think, when this started, that we would be here a year on. (I had a wonderful dream of going back to services in the building on Advent Sunday, and hoped that I wouldn't be delaying people.....hmmm!)
And yet, here we are, and we can both mourn and give thanks; we mourn above all, the people we have lost. We mourn the people whose lives have been damaged by the ongoing effects of the virus. We mourn the harm to people's mental health and the fear and pain suffered by those trapped at home with an abuser. We mourn the lost events, opportunities, experiences and normality. We mourn the damage down to youngsters' education, the romances not had, the new friends not made, the adventures unexperienced. We mourn the exhaustion of those who have kept the world working for us - and we mourn that they are not properly rewarded (and indeed, in some quarters are abused) - actually, we do more than mourn that; we are angry about that!
And we give thanks for vaccines, for treatments, for lives saved, for health restored, for new skills learned, for kindness shown, for time to spend with people we have all too often had to rush past in the busy-ness of getting stuff done. We give thanks for creativity to meet and solve problems we hadn't thought of 18months ago. We give thanks for moments of laughter that have delighted us, for letters sent and received, for phone calls that tie up the line for hours at a time, for waving to neighbours and sharing the shopping. We give thanks for the selfless service of so many. We give thanks that, gently, and wisely, we are daring to open up.
We mourn and we give thanks. We cannot do one without the other. One alone will not be healthy or honest.
Our hearts are big enough to do both.
March 17 2021
St Patrick's Day
Today is the day when the church traditionally celebrates the feast day of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. He is a very popular saint, whose story - or about whom various stories - are known more widely than the stories of others.
He was a missionary to Ireland, for example, and used the image of a clover leaf to try to explain the Trinity; he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. And around him have gathered all sorts of the images of Ireland; leprachauns, the colour green, having a good party!
But his own story is much more complex. Kidnapped by pirates at 16 from England, he was taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. He was held in slavery for several years, and the story goes, eventually, in a dream vision he was told to go to the coast where a ship would take him to freedom.
He got home eventually, and stayed...
Stayed until another vision drew him back to Ireland as an evangelist.
There are many stories around his ministry - he stayed, and became bishop, preacher, pastoral carer....until he died of old age.
So much in his story to reflect on...
the continuation of slavery, and the plight of those who are currently enslaved
the capacity to forgive and be reconciled in service
the centrality of theology in mission
As is so often the case, the depth of a story can offer us so much more than an immediate reading, or simply a celebration.
Not that parties are bad thing....especially at the moment.
So, happy St Patrick's Day - celebrate well.
March 10 2021
This coming Sunday is Mothering Sunday - or Mothers' Day.
We tend to use these terms as interchangeable, but they do actually refer to different things. Mothers' Day - which is what we actually celebrate, is a day to celebrate mothers and mothering; saying thank you, giving gifts, making a fuss of mum....it can have complexities, but it does have a joy to it. And I am so glad that there are times to say thank you and "you are special".
Mothering Sunday - which is the older celebration, and is very specific to Lent - is the celebration of our Mother Church, and in particular the congregation which has nurtured us. And it is - or was - a break in the rigour and fasts of the Lenten observance.
Thinking of the church as our "mother" is not something that is much referred to in our tradition, but it is deep in church history. In the 3rd century, Ignatius, who was a significant writer and church leader argued that "he cannot have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother" - by which he was arguing that being part of a follower of Jesus.
This might give us pause, as we are thinking about how to be a church, and what a church is about, as life begins to take new shapes, and we emerge from lockdown.
What does it mean to be "part" of a church? We have a pattern of membership in our kind of church - when people join in, and undertake to share in the bearing of responsibility for decisions and activities.
But is that all there is to it?
For Ignatius, there were two things he was particularly concerned about; gathering together and being united. What do each of these mean for us today?
Gathering has become problematic recently, though people have been incredibly creativein finding ways to make it happen.
And we value difference, discussion, questions and variety.
So - what are the central parts of being a church, what is that marks us as a church rather than some other kind of get-together of people who are interested in the same things....?
As we do all the wonderful stuff to celebrate Mothers' Day, it might also be a good time to think about "mother church" and ask "what shape does church take in our context, our generation, our situation.?"
March 3 2021
Use you eyes!
Christian community was a fundamental part of being a follower of Jesus.
That phrase "use your eyes" was one of my mother's exasperated statements when, as happened rather too often my cry of "where's my......(fill in the blank with something I needed right now, to take to school)" echoed round the house. I was (and sadly remain!) all too prone to putting something down and then forgetting where...and if only I would take the time to look, it might be that I could have found it without the normally ensuing trauma.
In our reflection group during Lent, we are looking, with the help of a resource called The Visual Commentary on Scripture, at various art works connected to, or hinting at biblical stories. (Today's was on the crucifixion - hence the illustration on this post)
As we have talked about them, we have noticed things about the stories, and about our own reactions to them that have been fascinating, challenging and moving.
And we have also noticed that, as part of a theological tradition which has not placed emphasis on images in our buildings or our piety - rather the oppposite - we have perhaps too often focussed on words and meanings to the exclusion of image and its power to evoke response.
We are fortunate that we have a member of the congregation whose skills mean we do have pictures in the space where we worship (when we can worship in a building), and that they lead us through the seasons and encourage our response to the story in more than just ideas.
But to take time, as we are doing through Lent, to study unfamiliar images, coming from contexts, forms of thought and theology that are different from ours, is proving a very fruitful discipline.
I am hoping that, by the end of these weeks, with all that I have learned from the conversations and reactions in the reflection groups, using my eyes, as well as my mind and my words as a way of encountering the presence of God will be more deeply engrained, and will open me up to even more of the presence that transforms.
Feb 24th 2021
Saying thank you
This is the front of the card that has been designed to be sent to keyworkers as a way of saying thank you and that we are praying for somebody.If you haven't already, you may like to think about sending for some (you cn get them from the Association Office) and sending them to people you know, family members, neighbours and others who are doing amazing work.
As I talk to those who have family or friends working in the NHS and other caring and supportive agencies, it is clear people are getting very tired. It has been a long road, and we are not yet at the end of it.
A moment to say thank you, and we are praying for you might just give a lift that is really needed right now....
Feb 17th 2021
Today marks the beginning of Lent; the period in the year when we prepare for the celebration of Easter. It is not normally a day that Baptists have made much of, but in some parts of the church it is very important as a day of repentance. Part of the practice of the day involves having a cross marked on one's forehead and the words "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" said.
This year, I have been introduced to this poem, which is a new take on these words, and I love it. So, I am sharing it with us, as a prayer for this day. It is written by Jan Richardson
All those days
when you felt like dust
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corner
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial -
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
of for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust
within the dirt
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
Feb 10th 2021
The "new normal"...?
A few weeks ago, Jeremy wrote us a really helpful reflection on this blog about "building back better" and imagining a "new normal", and I have been thinking a lot about that since. Hence the image. Not - please note - that I am suggesting that our yet-to-come life as a congregation will be constructed out of marshmallows and cocktails sticks!!
And yet.... I wonder what it is we are looking to for the construction of our "new normal"? We are getting various things sorted out during this period...taking advantage of the building being empty to get our fire safety policies up to date, for example. We have not forgotten that we need to do some investigating about how best to care for the hole in the floor that is our baptistry....
There are other aspects of our life that we are reflecting on...how best to go on using the skills in and gifts of tech that we have learned; what other use we might make of our outdoor space, as we have been doing new things when ithas been the only space we have...? And then there are questions about the new patterns of fellowship we have developed - our various meetings that have grown up during the week as we have not been out and about; which ofthese might continue, and in what form. And of course, we have discussions to have about restarting our previous activities -and what shape these might take.
All of these questions matter, and we are discussing them in various contexts (in particular our not-the-church-meeting gatherings).
Underlying all these questions are the questions about the building blocks. That picture above comes from one of the meetings of the youngest of our youth groups. It is a popular activity. They are given cocktail sticks and marshmallows....and they come up with the wildest designs, the weirdest structures, and much delight and giggles.
We have - a building; a tradition; a faith; a community; a garden and car park; a desire to serve; a sense of frienship and a willingness to accept one another....
We have - a history, both joyful and painful; a hope that the vision of the Kingdom does actually mean something; a commitment to love and to be loved; a place in our lives for worship, for being connected to something bigger than our selves.
We have - a call from God. The promise of the Risen Presence of the Incarnate One. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
What wonderful, unexpected, delightful - and possibly slightly weird - life together might be built as our "new normal"?
Feb 3rd 2021
Signs of spring?
I saw these on my walk today, and they were so encouraging.
Any plant coming up at this time of year is encouraging...the signs that winter will pass, that spring is coming, that life is still active and "alive"...always hopeful, but after the last 12 months, even more so.
And it is in the context of the last 12 months that these have give me particular joy! There are other plants around - I even saw some crocuses the other day, and their bright yellow was a smile in the border.
But these - weeds, because they are in the wrong place, and probably causing damage by growing under a foundation though they might be - have given me real joy. Precisely because they are in the wrong place and are wild rather that cultivated. They are the affirmation that life is not neat, tidy, controlled - and that it breaks through...
I read a poem by RS Thomas some weeks ago, which contained the lines
He is the wilderness imprisoned under our flagstones yet escaping from them in a haemorrhage of raw flowers
There will come colder days again, and there will be moments when I am frustrated and miserable, and feel like I am losing hope. There are plenty of times when I feel that God is imprisoned in my limted understanding, the constraints of trying to get it right, the un-knowingness of living in a context where the complexities baffle me.
But he escapes in a haemorrhage of raw flowers....and weeds growing through a wall remind me that there is hope, there is life, there is love...
And when the world is - and has to be for everybody's safety - so narrow and constrained, and when my own thinking gets limited because I am tired, unimaginative and trapped in worn out patterns...yet, still, life happens, and love emerges, and hope is born again.
Jan 27 2021
Remembering in grief and anger
This is the front page of one of the orders of service for events that are happening around the country and around the world today. The day when we remember with grief, anger and horror the events that come together inder the title Holocaust; the killing, by mass produced murder of Jews, gay men and women, men and women with disabilities, Gypsies and others, by a regime that remains to many, thankfully, incomprehensible.
The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, discussing the motivation of those who were part perpetrating this horror, spoke of "the banality of evil" - that is, somebody (in the situation she was discussing, Eichmann) who was not consciously "doing wrong", but was doing what he needed to do to be good at his job without - and this is the crucial point - actually thinking about the reality and the meaning of what he was doing.
There is a great deal of controversy about the phrase and about whether it is a proper description of Eichmann and others - were they truly "unaware" of what they were doing? It wasn't that they didn't know the facts; they did. They knew that millions were being killed. But were they "unaware" because they had become so disassociated from reality that they could not be assigned a role as truly monstrous beings, but were simply ordinary, unimaginative, and unthinking people who did their jobs?
There is good reason to think that Arendt's understanding of Eichmann is flawed; his own documentation of his committed Nazi convictions makes it clear that he was nto simply doing a job, but deeply believed in what he was doing.
But there remains a value in the phrase - for it is the reminder that the Holocaust was not carried out by people who are somehow a different kind of human from the rest of us. The danger with identifying some people as radically evil is that it lets the rest of us off the hook, since we are not that bad.
But Holocaust Remembrance Day is the reminder that while there were those carrying out unspeakably evil acts from deep and horrific convictions, there were also those who let it pass because getting involved was too threatening or demanding, and - and this might be particularly uncomfortable - there were those who, while not involved, yet did not resist because while they might have thought this was going too far, yet, there was some sympathy with the basic premise that there were those without whm society would be better off.
We have seen and are seeing the rise in our own country and in other nations patterns of thought that are disturbing; resentment against "others" - those whose colour, language, culture, religion, sexuality is not regarded as "us". And the death camps don't emerge from nothing.. They start in the place where the division between "us" and "them" is allowed to take root.
When we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are walking in the footsteps of Jewish man - killed by a dominant regime who defined "us" and killed "them" for the sake of peace.
Today matters - not just for our remembering, but for our future.
Jan 20 2021
Guest Blog Post - A Better Normal?
By Jeremy Oxley, Church Member
People keep talking about “getting back to normal”, and, yes there are things which we all miss during these times, but there was quite a bit wrong too.
It is human nature to look back at a mythical “golden age” (often around our childhood which, for most, are the happiest times without the duties and responsibilities of adulthood as children we are shielded from some of the harsher realities of the world) and overlook the imperfections. A great deal of the national conversation is still, 75 years on, about the second world war, “wartime spirit” and the like (as well as a little jingoism and/or xenophobia, if we’re being honest) - it is well worth remembering that the majority of people who remember that period now, were children at the time so their view is likely to be rosier (I wonder how contemporary children will remember this period in history in 70 years time - probably not in the way that the doom-mongers insist, there's much talk of life long consequences!).
It is so much easier (and often far more comfortable) to “do things the way we’ve always done them”, but sometimes doing things differently can be valuable, bring us so much more than our tired traditions and possibly re-invigorate them, I think we need to re-imagine our world, or, at least those bits of it we can influence.
Maybe instead of getting back to “normal” or having a “new normal” we should seek out a “better normal”!
Jan 13 2021
The promise of things to come
Who knew it was possible to get so excited about somebody sticking a needle in you. And yet we are!!
Several in the congregation have had both jabs. More have had or are about to have their first. Some of us will have to wait a bit longer. But it's coming. The signs are there, and we can begin to feel the difference, even if actually, on a day to day level, life is just what it was. We are still locked down, there are strict regulations about where we can go, what we can do, who we can see. We are still hearing anxiety provoking news of rising numbers and a fragile health service. We are still overwhelmingly grateful to our front-line workers for the amazing work they are doing.
And beside all that, we know there is change coming. We are daring to hope, maybe even wondering when we might make plans again, and imagining what those plans might be....
I believe there is no more gospel-shaped place to be. Being fully aware of what is, and of its struggle, brokeness and beauty - and knowing that there is more, that there will be change, that what we see and live in is not all there is, but something more lies ahead.
And - just as we know that getting from here to there in terms of moving into a freer way of living involves us all doing and not doing certain things, so in our lives as followers seeking the Kingdom of God.
We know that it is God's intention - and we know that it is God's action.
And we know too that how we live, the choices we make, the attitudes we express and the people we are becoming are part of how God brings the Kingdom.
So, as we look at the news stories that distress us, make us angry, bewilder us with the quesiton of just how could this happen; as we continue to feel the frustration and limitation, the loneliness and weariness of our current situation - so we can look ahead, in faith, hope and commitment to live lovingly, waiting to see newness come.
That is the promise of Christmas, it is the gift of Easter; it is the deep truth of our faith.
Jan 6 2021
We've been here before
Ten months ago, this was the slogan that dominated our lives, and shaped the lockdown that lasted for several months.
I don't think we expected, as that eased, and we began to think about beginning to do things again that we would be back here again now.
Or if we did, we did it hoping it might not be true.
But here we are - just the same.
Though, of course, it is not the same. We know more about how to do this now. Individually and as a congregation, we know how to manage this experience (not to say that it is easy, but the "how do I make zoom work", "can I get shopping" "what is a support bubble" is now not new, but something we take for granted now). And the medics know much more about how to treat serious symptoms, even if the new form is proving demanding.
And there is the vaccine - not just a vague hope, but a present promise.
And all of that makes facing this lockdown both easier and more demanding.
It is easier since some of what frightened and confused us is now different, and it is harder because it feels like going back to the beginning, and we are tired, we've done this....
When I was writing (interminably) a doctoral thesis, I discovered the reality of the spiral as a means of progress, and since then, I have seen it in so much of my life. You know what I mean.....those moments when you are back doing something you thought was done, and it is frustrating and boring and disappointing....and yet, it is different because you bring new knowledge, deeper experience and more wisdom, and so the outcome is not to end up at exactly the same place, but to move on....
In writing the thesis, it was the experience of going back to read the same chapter or letter (my work was based on somebody's writings, both published and private) yet again...but doing it having learned more, had more time to think, been part of a conversation that gave me new questions and deeper answers.... I progressed, not in a straight line, but by revisiting the same material over and over, but in new ways.
I find the same thing is so often true in my faith; I am still asking the same questions (and struggling with the same tendencies) as I was when I was baptised. But I come to the questions, and the struggles with new wisdom gleaned from being with faithful people, with new courage developed through the experience of having gone through this before, with new insight as I simply learn more about me, about the world, and, hopefully, about God. It's the same but different.
If I could draw, I would include a cartoon here of a bike wheel - it goes round and round - and forward at the same time. That!
So, yes - we've been here before and we did not want to be back here. But it's not the same because we are not the same. There is movement.
And, thank God, it is true not just of lockdowns, but also of discovering what it is to be a faithful people of God....we go round and round. But in grace, we don't' go round in circles, but in a spiral, moving forward in love, faith and service.
Dec 23 2020
Maybe it's just that I am paying more attention this year, but we do seem to be sending more Christmas cards than we have been doing recently. And very lovely it is too. That delightful opening of the envelope, enjoying the picture, reading the message and being moved at being remembered.
Of course, normally, when we can come and go from the building freely, we have had the habit of each sending one card to everybody, and putting it up on the card tree - and I confess, I am missing that tradition.
Others are missing it too....not least, those who receive our donations given in lieu of postage, often Christian Aid. At our Christmas service each year, we usually give our offering to one of our chosen charities, again, frequently, Christian Aid. We had planned to do that this year too. But what with not having an on-site service, we are not having an offering.
Christian Aid is continuing to do vital work - even more vital as this year has been going on.
And it is still possible to give. So, even if you are not giving in lieu of postage, or bringing your offering to the Christmas morning service, you might still want to donate to this important work. Here is a link to help you do it;
I'm loving the Christmas cards - thank you! Maizie-dog is enjoying them too; she barks every time something comes through the letter box... :)
Let's spread the joy a bit further, and give to those who depend on the work Christian Aid is doing.
Dec 16 2020
Christmas in the Car Park
It was not the weather we ordered, but that aside, it all went well. Santa visited, and was greeted by nearly 40 children at various points (all carefully distanced), and Santa's elf did a wonderful job in looking after him and them. And the gifts to the foodbank that were being donated as Santa was being visited were amazingly generous.
The next day, the tent and the radio broadcast went well, and Carols By Headlight went well....
The Christmas Trail in the garden has attracted all sorts of visitors and the Crib at the Gate is still being added to - and still being looked at as people go past (and stop to look!)
Contrary to rumour, Christmas has not been cancelled. It just looks different. And it's not over yet....Satuday Night Social on zoom, Longest Night on zoom and livestreamed to facebook, Midnight service in the building, Christmas morning service on zoom...the celebrations and reflections, praise and prayer keep on going....
And different might not be a bad thing. Routine and knowing what we are doing is reassuring and straightforward.
But there are moments when being a rut threatens.
And whatever else is at the heart of Christmas for those who follow Jesus, being in a rut is not it....whatever else God is doing in Jesus' birth, it is not "more of the same".
Yes, of course we miss "the same". But it has also been unexpectedly wonderful to discover something new....
Hmmmm....I wonder what that might tell us about God in Christmas.....?
Dec 9 2020
Nativity on Pingate Lane
Our Nativity scene is gradually filling up; the innkeeper is beginning to look a bit panicked...how is he going to fit everybody in? Sheep and shepherds are bad enough - but so many others keep turning up...!!
No, it's not a traditional nativity scene, and it is far from a traditional cast of characters. And it's not only because we needed to have a figure to add in each day of Advent. Our intention is two-fold...to give a visual representation of our conviction that what happens in the stable is not just about 2000 years ago and far away, but is to do with here, now and us, all of us.
And it is a way of honouring our key workers and welcoming those who might otherwise be excluded. We believe that this fits the story we are told in the gospels - shepherds were among the key workers of their day (poorly paid, overlooked and necessary, keeping a community going by providing resources) and magi were excluded (outsiders from another culture and nation, not fitting in easily, bringing "foreign ways")
At the heart of it, at the moment, a waiting...a waiting which will be filled with a Presence, large enough, loving enough, committed to us enough to welcome all....
Dec 2nd 2020
Familiar and strange
As Advent starts, we are so aware of all the things are different, things we can't do that we normally do, things that are strange. There has been all sort of amazing creativity and originality offered to hep us explore new ways of keeping Advent, and making the journey to Christmas...
But let's be real; it still feels strange.
So, it is lovely to see our familiar picture put up in the building. (Those who are able to come to the in-building service this Sunday will see it "in the flesh").
In a time of strangeness, it is wonderful to have something familiar. It is the reminder that, though there are many differences, and much that makes us uncomfortable or even feel in exile, yet there is also deep continuity; continuity of relationship, of place and history, of resources - and of the underlying sustaining and renewing presence of God.
Churches have to work very hard at being neither so committed to the past that we get frozen and can't move, or being so determined to embrace and explore the new that we get disconnected from our story. To see a deeply familiar image of a well known and well-loved story in the midst of doing new things and discovering a whole world (of technology, medical knowledge, isolation) that we never expected is to be deeply enabled to keep that balance. Maybe we wouldn't have chosen to do it this way, but if it is what we are being led to embrace, let's do it as well as we can.
Nov 25 2020
If you wander past the church car park at the moment, you will see, beside the notice board, a large wooden and corrugated iron structure, swathed in black plastic, with a noice on it saying "What's this?"
"This" is the first stage in our Advent Car Park. Thanks to all sorts of creative brilliance and dedication, we will explore different aspects of advent and Christmas, with colour, light, socially - distanced gatherings and general merriment. And some serious stuff, some reflective and challenging stuff too. Come and see, come and join in...
Above all, we are hoping to remind ourselves, and those who walk past, or follow the development on social media that Christmas is not cancelled, Christmas is not even diminished. Some of what we normally do at this time of year may not be happening - but, we could always do some of it at another time (I know of one family who live very scattered. For years now, the sibilings have not been together in December, because there are other places to be - with partners families, cairing for young children, working. So they nominate a weekend, usually in February or in June, depending on various other circumstances, and have "Christmas" together then - decorations, presents, meal, daft games, the lot! It works well!!)
But Christmas is also about a discovery of a depth of love that exceeds our wildest imaginings.....
And this year, this would be a wonderful thing to remember and to offer to one another. We hope that Christmas in the Car Park might raise a smile, offer a giggle, encourage sharing and develop wonder...all aspects of exploring what it is to be people who are loved and so can love.
And wouldn't that change the world if we dared to let it?
Nov 11 2020
We shared our Act of Remembrance as part of our worship on Sunday - and inevitably, with today being the actual 11 of 11, it is still in mind... It is a day with great resonance for many, and one that can seem strange and in need of explanation for others. I was about 10 when I remember actually asking what this was about. I was not attending my own church and Sunday School that morning, but going with my Brownie Pack to the parish church for the Remembrance Day Parade. I'd heard of the war, of course; I was a child of the 60s...it was still well within people's memories, and there were even physical reminders still around (there was, I think, an Anderson shelter in the school playground...) But for some reason, that year, it suddenly became very important to me to understand what was going on, and why - as somebody who did not remember it - I was being asked to remember it.
My parents, and then my Brown Owl did a good job in explaining.
And it is an explanation that still needs to happen - or perhaps needs to happen even more. The "Never Again" that is the pledge following the horrors of the wars depends on remembering what it is we are not going to do again.
So, I think Remembrance Day matters - not the least as an educational exercise.
One of the regular exhortations of the Hebrew Scriptures is "teach your children my Words" - and the Passover Meal, the remembering of the rescue in the Exodus includes a "liturgy" in which the youngest child present asks "why do we do this" and so the the story is retold, so that everybody is reminded, and the children are taught.
An approach to Remembrance that asks "why do we do this" and gives an answer that elicits the response "never again" seems to me a fitting memorial to those who died so tragically.
Nov 4 2020
On being uncertain...
As I write this, the result of the election in the USA is still uncertain. As I write this, the House of Commons has still to vote on whether we will enter lockdown tomorrow. As I write this, the roadmap out of the pandemic is unclear. As I write this, whether those who can will take the necessary action to care for our environment is unclear.
And so I could go on.
It feels as if life, always uncertain to some extent, is even more unsure, unsteady and unpredictable than I evenr remember.
A bit of me wants to take refuge in verses like "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever" and "our God the unchanging one"....
And I do believe that the faithfulness of God is unchanging.
But I still have to live in and engage with a world in which I am bewildered and unknowing, even afraid, because I can't tell what's coming next and therefore I can't work out how to deal with it.
And it's that latter phrase that is the most demanding; I can't tell how to deal with things, because I have no map. Therefore I am not in control, and can only react.
And here is where I try to find a meaning in faith - not that I can control, or even that I can demand that God controls in line with my desires, wishes, best wisdom. But that I trust in a God who decided that the best way to connect with us, to reconcile and redeem us, to bring hope and renewal to a world of power, violence, struggle and conflict was to be out of control enough to be executed, and to love enough that the death of the cross could not in the end triumph.
It's not a comfortable place to be, this faith; it's not easy, and it doesn't make the unknowing, and the out of control-ness easier to bear. But it is the faith that we are called to if we are followers of Jesus.
For love is about not being in control, and takes us to places we don't know...and we are called not to control, not to dominate, but to love.
And whatever is going on, whatever the powers around us, we are still called to love, for whatever is going on, and whatever the powers around us are doing, we are still loved by the One who will stop at nothing to make enact that love.
Words, words, words...
I was an interested observer yesterday of an online discussion about cliches in "Christian language" and how annoyed certain phrases made people. I know we will all have had a little groan/chuckle as the same old phrase (which changes with the generations) makes it's appearance in prayer, or preaching, or the Christian press - or, the context that started this discussion, job adverts.
It was all quite amusing and there were moments of recognition as I saw phrases mentioned that either make me wince, or (sadly!) I have heard myself use.
But one of the wise people in the conversation reminded us that we should be careful to not be judgemental or dismissive of the words people are using, because sometimes those are the best words they can find. This then provoked further reflections on whether we should ever challenge or question the words...
Much food for thought; and at a time when words are being misused, twisted, deployed to dominate and intimidate, it is good to think about the words we use, the way we use the, and how we listen. Of course we shouldn't be laughing at people's attempts to speak of deep things when the words are too small; cliches are cliches for a good reason - they work! And of course jargon and in-speak can be used for the wrong reasons, and that should be questioned.
But even more significant, I suggest, is the need to listen to our own words and consider whether we are speaking to build up or to attack, to comfort or to denigrate.
And we should also be taking our responsibility to challenge the misuse of words to cover up, to manipulate and to silence...especially by those who are in power. Refusing to be silenced by stock responses, or to accept non-answers is all part of following the One who is the Word.
Oct 21 2020
Christmas is coming...
And it's going to look a bit different. Ok - so October seems a bit early to be talking about Christmas, but just because it is going to be a bit different, we need to take longer to plan than usual.
But above all, we want to say Christmas is happening.
We haven't agreed yet what we will be doing, just as many families don't yet know what will be happening...and the possibility of regulations changing means any plans are provisional. But above all, we want to affirm that we are doing something! Because Christmas is and has been many things - but at its heart it is the conviction that God is doing something!
In the middle of the muddle of the world, the confusion of joy and pain, the uncertainty about the future, the mistrust in leaders, the sense of frustration that was then, is now - and indeed, is most of the time, in the birth of a baby, God got involved. It may not have looked like people wanted - many people were looking for an involvement that was on their side, was overthrowing leaders, was putting them in charge, while others might have been looking for a more direct rescue, being removed from an uncomfortable situation. But, even if it wasn't what people wanted or expected, still it was God at work, and it changed everything.
So, we may not be able to do what we want, or what we normally expect....but that is quite in line with how God does stuff. So, I invite your prayers as we plan; your prayers for our planning, and your prayers for all those who are anxious about what Christmas is going to be this year. May it be a time in which the very strangeness itself opens up to God's new thing....
Oct 14 2020
On rain and fake news
In a comment on facebook recently, inviting people to come and donate to Chelwood Foodbank on a Saturday in the car park, I commented that it would probably be raining - because it always rains on a Saturday morning.
Quite rightly, I have been corrected. Apparently, on the Saturdays since we started collecting only 1/3 of the days have been wet....though some of them have been very wet, as this picture shows!
Well, I am quite willing to accept these figures as accurate. I confess I did not sit down and work it out.
Rather, I gave my impression.
And since the correction, I've been thinking quite a bit about that.
There is, I insist, no justification for the kind of "fake news" that sets out to deceive, to present somebody or some organisation in a deliberately better or worse light for the sake of some agenda, or that intends to build up a particular image of the world in order to achieve a political, economic or religious aim.
But I've been wondering about the impressions we can create because we depend on the impressions we receive...I felt that it was very wet, and so that is what I said - without checking, and without even wondering about whether my impression was justified.
Similarly, there is a lot of concern about the way in which students going back to uni has caused great leaps in CV infection, and we are all taking it for granted, especially when we know people who are affected by it. In fact, across the country, the vast majority of colleges and unis are not badly hit by infection, though they are badly disrupted by all the necessary new ways of doing things.
I have heard it said that "all churches are now doing...." whatever it is... And I know it's not the case, but the person I am talking to has experienced this, for example in their own church, and so generalises from their own experience (as indeed, I do myself in talking about churches!) Ministers do it when we are talking about finding a pastorate - "women under thirty are never called" , "single men find it hard to be invited to a church", "if you are known to be willing to accept same-sex marriage you will never be allowed to be a minister" - I have heard all these said - and know plenty of cases of people in these situations who have found churches easily and happily. And plenty who haven't. And that's my point. The situation is usually much more complex than a simple statement.
Generalising from our own experience as if it is the only one is a dangerous thing to do. It's where being part of a community, and listening to one another's story, experience and questions is a vital part of not limiting our understanding of the world, and assuming that, because it is true for us in our experience, it is always and everywhere true.
The world is bigger than my experience of it.
And it doesn't always rain on Saturdays!
September 30 2020
Well, I can't promise that it will be this sunny, but it will be good; on Sunday afternoon, we are holding our first in-building service since March. We will meet at 3.00pm for about 30 minutes for a service of readings and prayers. Chairs will be socially distanced, there will be a one-way system and sanitiser ready, and we ask, unless you are exempt, please wear a mask.
It won't be what we took for granted pre-CV, and it is not to take the place of what we have become used to on zoom and soundcloud....it is a new thing for a new season. And it is exciting and a little daunting. Can we "do church" in a new way?
Well, the answer is obviously yes... we make a habit of it! Our whole origins are rooted in doing things in new ways, ways we had no model for and had to make up, and sort out to fit the times, context and the understanding of God and of being the people of God that we knew ourselves to be. For the first Baptists, this meant precisely moving out of "churches" and meeting in a variety of buildings - homes to start with, and then bakeries, barns, sometimes the open air....and then chapels that looked, from the outside, like domestic buildings. We have only used buildings that looked like " churches" from the middle of the 19th century. And in more recent years, we have moved away from that - because it doesn't really fit what we aim to do in the buildings - the calling we know we have as our kind of congregation.
In the same way, our forebears let go of known patterns of worship and "reinvented" what they did to be in line with their reading of Scripture and their convictions about not being a hierarchy...no prayer book, but extempore prayer, or prayer written by people for this place and time, to fit this situation; an emphasis on reading Scripture and reflecting on it together; communion shared among the congregation, not distributed by a priest....
And so, we are doing what we have always done; working to understand our situation, and discern what God is doing here and now, and how we might join in.
We won't get it right first time. And it will feel strange - maybe uncomfortable. We will miss things (though it is also worth remembering our Baptist forebears didn't sing; it was regarded as dangerous! - they did share meals though....) But, in faith, we will explore - in-building, and through paper and technology - and, in hope, we will trust that we are not abandoned, but that our God is still with us and leading us on to something new and faithful.
I would value your prayers as we prepare for Sunday - and, for those who can make it, thank you for coming.
September 23 2020
A Harvest thanksgiving with a difference
Well, everything else is different this year, so why not harvest.....
We can't decorate the church. It's going to be tough to sing the harvest hymns. And the wonderful sights and tastes and scents of shared food are not such a good idea this year.
But we do still have the resources we need to sustain our lives; we are still dependent on and supplied by the good things that the earth produces, we are still enabled to go on enjoying good food because of the labour of farmers, suppliers, deliverers, shop staff - and sometimes even those who cook for us!
So we are still giving thanks - even if we are not gathering the building to do it.
And we are still aware that the resources we have are not available to everybody, the ease with which we can access what we need is something very privileged.
So, we are still making our offerings - giving gifts that will be shared with Wellspring and Chelwood Food Bank, so that the good things to which we have access, the produce of the earth, can be more equitably shared.
Details of gifts we need and how to donate them will be on our facebook page.
A harvest with a difference - yes. But also the same; thankfulness and sharing.... What more do we need?
September 16th 2020
A book group as a gospel lesson
Tonight is our sort-of-every-two-months book group. We have been meeting for about a year now, and great fun it is too!
We have read books I would never have got around to reading, we have not exactly agreed (I think there's only been one book we have all liked!) and we have blethered with enthusiasm.
One of the things that I have loved about it - as an inveterate novel-reader - has been the context in which I have read books that were completely new to me, and which have given me another view of the world; either form a different culture, or a different time period, or even a different theory of mind (reading books about people who are "wired differently").
This seems to me not just a valid, but a vital theological exercise; not that we are talking about God all the time (or even any of the time) - but we are discovering that the world is bigger and more various than our experience and context.
I am more and more convinced that this is a gospel practice; the technical term is being decentred - that is being reminded that we are not the centre of the world, and even that our culture, our historical context is not the centre of the world.
The way the Bible story accounts for the pan and struggle that mark so much of human life and society is with a story in which Adam and Eve organise things on the basis that they are the centre of the world; they put themselves in the place of God. It is a story that continues to hold our imaginations because it reflects so well the experience we have - the conviction and experience that each of us has that we are the centre of the world. To read a good novel - and then to talk about it with people's whose experience of that novel itself is different, is to discover another truth; that the world is bigger than my and my decisions, my choices, my needs, desires and intentions.
And that is a gospel thing. It is a moment of grace - to step out of centering everything around myself, and accepting and exploring something bigger, different, strange and challenging.
And it's fun!
September 9th 2020
The Church Dog blogs....
A few weeks ago, one of the humans who shares my house, and who regularly writes this blog asked for guest contributors. We had a lovely piece about youth groups, so that gave me confidence to write my reflections....I am the Church Dog, so I have a unique insight into our life together - from a perspective a little nearer the ground than most people.
My perspective is also more based on my nose than my eyes...and is largely reinforced by my delight in tummy-rubs and my appreciation for those who offer them.
And I have to say, at the moment, it is not happening a lot!
Every Sunday my humans stare at screens and seem to get very excited about "meeting" people with whom they worship, pray and laugh....but my nose doesn't register anything, and my tummy remains resolutely unrubbed. So, I am not at all convinced of the reality of these people in the little box!
But then there are Saturdays! Ah....Saturdays! On Saturday mornings, my humans go to the place they call "the car park" - and there are other humans there too. And they rub my tummy and stroke my ears, and seem very pleased to see me. And my nose tells me they are really there!
I am pretty sure that they all come to see and cuddle me - I mean, who wouldn't!
But my humans tell me there is another reason too. And it is true - they usually carry bags of human food, and they empty the bags into the cars - which then leaves their hands free to dispense tummy rubs, so that's good. But I am led to believe that the rubbing of the tummy is not the main reason why people come. In fact, I am told the reason they come is even more important than that (if such a thing were possible!!) The things they put in the cars are then taken to the Foodbank, from where they are delivered to people who otherwise would struggle to have enough to eat and drink and would find it hard to get the things they need to keep their homes running well.
Now, I am no expert in economics (my degree is in wuffles and kissy-licks, since you ask!), but I am pretty sure that a world where people don't have enough to eat is a world that is not working properly. So I am very glad that there are ways of making it better. I'd love to think that there would come a time when the only reason for visiting the car park on a Saturday is to pay me my dues in cuddles - but until then, I am glad to share the attention with the car boots. The picture above is my inspecting the donations. I am delighted to say that they were all up to standard, and reflected a great deal of care, imagination and attention.
So - two reasons to look forwards to Saturdays; you can give me a cuddle, thus making my life (and yours!) substantially better - AND - you can make a huge difference in the lives of people you may never meet, but who are your neighbours, and real people, who just want to live with dignity.
What's not to like?
September 2nd 2020
As the extra measures that were imposed on Manchester a few weeks ago are eased today, so we are back where we were early in August; we can visit one another in gardens, stay overnight friends, have our eyebrows plucked and go to the casino (it's going to be a busy week!)
The extra restrictions that our area undertook to control local outbreaks have now been eased - though not without controversy.
And the controversy is the reminder that nobody really knows what we are doing - not through wilful ignorance or stupidity, but because this is new, and we are still discovering. It is easy to get impatient with changes in regulations, and seemingly illogical decisions - and there are times when it is right to call those in authority to account, challenge the assertions and question the decisions. For example, I am deeply disturbed that, having said he would meet the group representing the bereaved through this pandemic, our Prime Minister is now withdrawing from that plan.
But surely it is also important that we do not simply blame, when restrictions are changed, or imposed, and especially when, as new things are learned, guidelines are changed. I had much rather that those who are skilled in this go on finding out more and then bring their advice up to date in the light of new evidence, than that we decide that we know all there is to know, and stick to where we were months ago, not changing anything. After all, that position taken a century ago would have stopped any of the advances in understanding, prevention and even treatment that have been developed since the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918...
It is difficult that things keep changing - we've been looking at the guidelines for going back into the church building, and they keep changing (thank you to the Baptist Union for keeping abreast of them, and helping us interpret them for our way of conducting church). It would be lovely if we could just wake up and it was all back to normal!
But failing that, it helps to remember that the basics remain the same; careful washing of hands in hot water and with soap for at least 20 seconds, keeping 2 m apart, and paying attention to those who are vulnerable so that we do not put anybody at particular risk.
These - and the individual restrictions that apply in particular places and times - are the practical outworkings of the theological identity that we aspire to; those who love our neighbours and follow our self-giving Lord.
August 26 2020