Dear Friends I greet you again still in difficult times with a message of hope. I have recently had a conversation about what is real and our need for the real and not the virtual? The real question is what do we mean by real? I guess this means being present, experiencing physically, touching, tasting, hearing, smelling and seeing live rather than imagining and being creative in our interpretations. It led me to the story of the Velveteen Rabbit where a toy rabbit has been thrown on a bonfire as it was the onky thing to do to decontaminate following the illness of its child owner who nearly died from Scarlet Fever. Just when the end came the toy rabbit leapt from the bonfire heap and became alive, that is, real. A real rabbit appeared. Once while I was giving a sermon I used this story and held a toy rabbit in my hand and threw it on the floor. Then I heard murmurs around the church for incredibly a real rabbit was indeed touring the car park. Now that was unnerving and quite prophetic it was as if God was saying to the congregation, see this is real, you can rise from the ashes, you can live again. All will be well even when you think it is over. Being reminded of this story again at this point on our pandemic journey is another reminder from God to us that we will live again however desperate we might feel at this time. I would invite you to look around and let God speak in images to you of things that are real now, the blessings that are indescribable, uncontainable and rich in wonder and that do give us hope for tomorrow. I also have a hunch that some of these can also be found in the virtual as we continue to search for those glimpses of God that feel real. Every Blessing continue to stay safe Helen
I greet you in difficult times with a message of hope.
I was reminded by my grandson in a hilarious fashion about Lent and temptation. He was videoed telling his interpretation of Lent when Jesus went to the desert. The metaphor is similar to our current situation…
He described Jesus (or cheesus) eating a huge sandwich and chocolate before he went into the desert where he had no food. There is a sense where we have enjoyed so many good things and now we are forced into a wilderness time. Lent and denial are really coming into focus for many of us. Jesus was being prepared for ministry and spent time relying on God to survive. If nothing else we are challenged in this way at present. We all have a variety of emotions flooding through our minds but the call is to not be afraid and to trust in God’s provision.
The end of my grandson’s tale was he came out of the desert and ate another huge sandwich and an even bigger egg! We will come out the other end, whether we are changed as a nation as a result we do not yet know . However may we prepare for blessings untold and be positive. There is no doubt people will pull together and there have already been many acts of kindness that can be celebrated.
In the words of Jesus…
I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. (John 14:27) Be determined and confident. Do not be afraid of them. Your God, the Lord himself, will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) “Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them.
Stay safe every blessing. Rev Helen x
As I write this I am preparing to go away on holiday a retreat from the busyness of my role as Minister and feeling somewhat guilty as I have the opportunity to travel to a warm place for sunshine, sea, sand and restoration particularly as my Sabbatical begins in April. Everyone I know tells me I should not feel in the least bit remorseful but actually it does not come easy when I know so many struggle. However on reflection our February lectionary readings have guided us on what it means to be disciples and how to grow too. We have learned from the sermon on the mount about the things we are blessed by. These are things that the world does not understand or appreciate and as church we often struggle to but it came to me the importance of staying salty so we can be salt of the earth that feeds others. The call to all of us is to be salt.
Did you know that in Jesus’s day when Matthew wrote his gospel people were paid their salary in salt. In Greek salt was and has become in English the root word of salary. People were paid in salt so could it be that through the things we do for Jesus help to keep us salty? We also know as in this sermon on the mount Jesus rook his disciples up a mountain and Jesus himself often withdrew to pray.
This teaches us that our discipleship offers us a number of things to do and there has to be a whole variety of ways in which we stay close to God in order we may fulfil the tasks to which we are called.
We must do this as individuals and a community of faith. This will involve rest, study, reflection, prayer, conversation, the necessity to be accountable to each other and the necessity of watching over one another in love. Thank you for watching over me and enabling me to take time out.
We must not only be salt to the world but also season ourselves.
So the challenge for Lent is to engage in things that season you and then church will be a community of faith that rejoices in unusual upside down blessings and is the city on the hill in a dark world that shines and encourages life in all its colours.
We are now in the season of covenant and renewing our promises to God. Some of you may have made New Year resolutions though they seem out of vogue. However it is good to have new beginnings and new ways forward. As seasons change it is part of the rhythm of life so if we take the pattern of nature then our lives should also continually be renewed and refreshed.
The Methodist covenant prayer says “put me to what you will” and also we are really challenged when we state “put me to suffering….let me have nothing….etc “
This year I linked the service with the reading from Philippians where Paul speaks of church and its people being a fragrant offering for Jesus. I wonder how can we be fragrant offerings during 2020?
What does this mean in practice?
When we put on perfume or after shave, we enjoy the scent but then hopefully the fragrance is enjoyed by others.
This is the challenge to commit ourselves one again to serving God and remembering the love he has for us so that others sense a difference in the way we present ourselves and live out our Christian discipleship.
As I write this article it is during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and its theme is one of unusual or extraordinary kindness. Could this be one way as a church community, that in our living we are the ones who offer this unusual kindness? Even when we don’t feel like it, even when we are weary, even when we feel we have nothing to give. Jesus was the one who demonstrated this to us throughout his ministry.
Happy New Year
I recently attended a day of Advent reflections and I would like to encourage you all to take some time out as you prepare for Christmas.
I found it invaluable and it helped me to reflect in a new way upon a part of the Christmas story.
As we are looking at telling God’s epic story we were encouraged to look at stories within stories and I reflected on the midwives who would have been there when Jesus was born. They tend to get overlooked. I am certain Mary did not give birth alone with just Joseph for company. She was a young girl and we know that most probably there was no inn but it would have been most likely a lodging house .The Greek word, kataluma, means “lodging place” and it’s usually translated “upper room” not “inn” It can refer to a room of a house where out of town guests could spend the night or even just a dining room. For example, in Mark 14:14, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples in an “upper room” (same word used here). This is why the 2010 NIV translates Luke 2:7 like this:
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
In Luke 10:34, Luke uses another word, “pandocheion,” when he’s talking about a public inn. The thing is, Bethlehem was a tiny little place with just a few hundred people living there. Which is one reason why there was probably no inn.
They were possibly even staying at the home of relatives.
What is certain there would have been some women to deliver the baby; in other words the midwives.
This has led me to put together the following mediation on the midwives at the birth of Jesus.
Make of it what you will but for me the challenge today is who are the midwives in our society that bring Jesus to birth in the lives of those who do not know him
Here is the meditation for you to reflect upon.
Who was the midwife for Mary?
Was it family, cousins, aunt or strangers? Or did Mary do it alone with just Joseph at her side?
How long did the labour take for after all it was her firstborn?
Let’s look at the story within the story.
“And she gave birth and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.”
Simple but profound as we know some of how it came to be.
Who else was there through the pain, the pushing, the contractions?
Did the waters break or were they broken?
A midwife’s role is recognised as someone who is engaged in the birthing. Their role to ease, to encourage and to facilitate.
Also they are ones who are employed to care, to listen, to notice, to intervene, to wait, to watch, to nurture, to attend often all through the darkness, in the loneliness of pain.
Sometimes witnessing endless agony, sometimes quiet toil.
The holistic purpose to deliver and to bring forth life. To reassure and to celebrate.
The transition from labour to delivery held in their hands.
Holding in this story the moments for Mary when she was out of control, emotional and scared.
In awe of those first moments of breathing and crying and glimpsing the potential of a new beginning. The precious moments of a journey and a story that unfolds and unfurls.
Did the midwife or attendants know who it was they delivered? Did they understand the significance of Emmanuel? God with us, King of all the earth.
Was it just an ordinary birth of an extraordinary child?
Did they catch a whisper of the epic story unfolding that had its birth in a guesthouse or wherever it was? How did they leave? Or did they stay?
What would you have done?
Did they leave changed, puzzled, pondering? What did they make of the name?
Were they surprised by the number and the nature of the visitors?
Not to mention the makeshift cradle! Holding its precious cargo.
Where did they go next? To another birth room helping another mum?
Was it just another day or did they recognise it as a day to them that became a day that would go down in history for eternity.
Oh…. to be remembered as the one who delivered the Saviour of the world.
Unnamed, unrecognised but with a huge part to play.
Spiritual midwives operating from deep respect and reverence for life.
Nourished by their work that night.
That night’s birthing represented the renewal of life, the renewal of nations and people.
The midwives’ vocation emerges as the receivers of life, for precious moments holding God in their arms
The first breaths of God’s son facilitated. Complete, it is finished…echoes of another time and place.
What do you make of it all ?
Where does this story sit with you and your experience of birth?
How does this story help you to see what things you must help to deliver and bring life to?
What will you bring life to maybe even without knowing or understanding?
To conclude …
The question put again for you, for church, for humanity, as midwives and “midhusbands” (a new but maybe necessary word!)
What is God calling you and all of us as church together to bring to life this Christmas ?
May God’s blessing be with you all this Christmas. Helen
I am writing this the day before I attend the Methodist Evangelism Conference when 250 Methodist folk will begin to look at strategies for growing our church or at least that is what I think will be happening. Maybe God has other ideas. I want to take this opportunity to reflect again on the story of the woman at the well. This story for me holds many thoughts and challenges.
Firstly that we all need to visit the well and sit with Jesus, but how difficult that often is. The Samaritan woman faced the prejudices of the folk around her and those she lived with. Her past experiences caused her to hide away and isolate her from community. She would have struggled in the heat of the day, but also with her inner feelings. We do know that she needed physical water but we also learn that she need much more. How good are we at expressing our needs to Jesus? And how often do we cause distractions in order to avoid the questions? The woman tried to distract Jesus from highlighting the truth of her life by asking where she would be best worshipping!
There are so many things that distract us, getting in the way of a deeper relationship with Jesus, but she did glimpse the opportunity and went away changed – leaving her old life, represented by the water jar she left behind. The challenge then to us is dare we risk it? Look what happened as she was used by God to begin the ripple effect of telling the whole town the good news. Could it be that he wants to use you? You too are invited to sit at a well.
Where do people go to find their wells? Where do they gather?
Should we be seeking these wells out and sitting by them in order to speak the gospel to those who come looking for something but then may find they go away having found a missing piece from their jigsaw of life?
I am also struck by the notion that the one who did the evangelism was the one who dared to step out. How can we help and encourage people who come to the wells for the practical things to go away with the spiritual which they then use to tell the world what god has done for them?
May we be ones who find the wells where we can share Jesus
August has seen us reflecting on what it means to follow the Christian journey of life. We have looked at the account in Philippians chapter 3 on running the race.
I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. Christ wants me to do that. That is the reason Christ made me his. 13 Brothers, I know that I have not yet reached that goal. But there is one thing I always do: I forget the things that are past. I try as hard as I can to reach the goal that is before me. 14 I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize. That prize is mine because God called me through Christ to the life above.
We have also reflected on how we pass on the faith to others and the legacy that generations of followers have left.
We know that in this life we will never reach perfection and yet society often seems to expect perfection in such things as unrealistic targets, workloads, the top exam grades, the perfect home, a perfect family life. I could go on! It seems to me we are always in the fast lane and life goes by so fast that we often fail to appreciate the things we should and give ourselves permission to enjoy what we should.
We must learn to accept that life in all its richness can never be perfect. We can experience those moments but sooner or later there will be struggle, heartache and the rest.
The one thing that we should be trying to attain is I think what Jesus speaks of in his prayer that encompasses all and that is at onement with ourselves and with each other. Confidence in our identity and our purpose in life. Knowing who we are in Jesus and knowing Jesus is surely the most important thing of all. May we concentrate on that being our goal as we journey in faith.
As Church we must concentrate on this together as faith communities for this is what sets us apart and this is the thing that makes a difference that others can see.
Summer is here! Well that is what our calendar tells us. Our word for this month is GROW and the gardens are full of growth and life. The weeds are prolific too. I have been struck by some powerful words from local preacher Stephen Ashworth regarding the fact that he sees God as a mathematician. He said” Our God is a God of numbers”. It was pointed out that he is a catalyst for multiplication whether it be going out as the 72 two by two or the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
If church and faith are to grow it involves nurture, food and the right conditions.
When Jesus broke the bread he began a chain reaction. It all began with a group of tired hungry men who were incredulous that they had been asked to feed the crowd when all they really wanted to do was walk away. Yet they became the miracle makers. They became the ones who instigated growth from what they had. This of course was the little boy’s lunch. Is this not enough to convince us to give the little we have in the knowledge that Jesus then begins the miracle in us.
Let’s pray that this growth begins from now.
Let’s ask God to use what we have and truth be known and told we do have so much.
This calls us to greater things than we can ever imagine.
Let’s believe it and then we will see it for that is God’s promise as we see time and time again in the Bible story.
Enjoy the summer days and watch and wait for spiritual growth in you and the church as a body of people called and named as people of God.
The Methodist Church Website says this:-
“We are at the beginning of a dynamic new Church-wide focus on evangelism as a crucial dimension of our mission and ministry in 21st century Britain.
“Evangelism” comes from a biblical Greek word that literally means “good news”.
We believe that God has called all of us to speak, live, and listen for the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world.”
At our recent Synod the connexional evangelism officer Trey Hall encouraged everyone to rather than use the scary word of evangelism but instead to consider simply telling our real and earthy stories. He explained that we need to share our everyday life stories and how our faith impacts on the real situations of life. In this one to one sharing there is a great opportunity to touch God. This is true authentic evangelism and is less fearful that thinking we should all be evangelists.
So my challenge over the next month is for you to practise telling your faith story.
Our theme for the month of June is “Go!!” wouldn’t it be fab if your story telling began a chain reaction.
If we are loving, faithful, and authentic in sharing our experience of Jesus in our lives then the story of the miraculous catch of fish when Jesus appeared to his disciples will become alive to us as we will find that Jesus provides the catch.
This is the potential for the church to grow as it did on the first Pentecost when we share good news.
Happy Birthday, Church!! May the Holy Spirit be with you.
I hope that Easter has been a time of renewal for you all and you have been able to enjoy the glorious weather. Easter is for me, as you all know, very busy and holds a certain poignancy as we travel from death into life. The sunrise on Easter Sunday was I am told the best yet and we watched the sun glinting on the horizon then rise majestically into the sky heralding the new day and time to celebrate the risen Jesus. There are lots of stories to tell and reminders of the message of Easter all around but for me this year what stuck in my mind was the question of a small child. He asked his mum “Can we go and find Jesus and be where he is?”
I find myself asking “what if” questions.
What if as we know the challenges, we all were as eager to seek Jesus? What if we could make the most of every opportunity to share the stories of where we find Jesus? What if each church member could bring along just one person who is ready to ask the question? Where might I find him?
Our Circuit vision statement of ‘Pray, Love, Learn, Go, Grow’ encapsulates everything. Jesus taught his disciples to pray as he did in the garden of Gethsemane. He taught them what love is by his servant ministry at the last supper and by dying on the cross
He had spent his ministry teaching them, and then after the resurrection they were commissioned to go and grow the church. This is the cycle and maxim that we are commissioned for in order to move forward and make disciples.
The next 40 days are preparation time for us to be released, and at Pentecost to go into the world. People like the little boy mentioned above are seeking, and the news stories are not exactly good news are they?
We must be ready to sow the seeds whenever and wherever we go and water them, we are told God the gardener will do the rest. The question is are we ready and willing to listen to where we should go, and dare we go to places where we have never been before?
I am excited by where God will lead us, I hope you are too.