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Happy Methodist New Year. Here is my thought for the week, which went out on BBC Hereford & Worcester on Sunday 30th. You can find it 1hr 48 minutes in.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08nv7sd

And here is the text:-

BBC Hereford and Worcestershire – Thought for the week 30-08-2020

Last night as I put the lights on, I was thinking, it must be getting late. Looking at the clock, it wasn’t late at all. I smiled, and remembered my grandmother, who if she was still alive would have said “the nights are drawing in now, it’ll soon be Christmas”. No, no, not yet! I want it still to be summer!

August Bank Holiday weekend we are normally at Greenbelt Festival. Due to Covid we reverted to a digital festival. I enjoyed being part of that yesterday. I enjoy Online content, online worship, speaking on the phone & internet is good, and we can make spiritual connections, but, I’m longing to be back with people in the same physical space.

September is on our doorstep, and for the Methodist Church and our schools it’s the start of a new year, a fresh start for things. Methodist Ministers move appointments generally every 5 years, so all over the country new ministers are getting ready for a fresh start in new places. In schools there will be new teachers, and new pupils, bright eyed and ready to go, a new creation.

What are you bright eyed and ready for? Do you need a fresh start this week,this new month?

Dave Bilborough encourages us to sing “I am a new creation no more in condemnation here in the grace of God I stand”. Jesus offers us each day the grace of forgiveness, the grace of a fresh start. Every day we can have a fresh start and be a new creation.

So for my churches, this new Methodist year, I am looking forward to a fresh start and new opportunities to meet safely together for worship in new ways. So Happy New year everyone for Tuesday, and happy fresh start to something new, whatever it might be.

I’ve been wanting to say something about Black Lives matter for sometime, but not managed to work out what to say, then I read my colleague Farai’s letter. So thought it better to reproduce that rather than trip over my own words.

Here is a letter from Rev’d Farai Mapamula our Birmingham District EDI Officer:-

Pastoral Letter – “All lives will matter only when Black lives matter “

Dear sisters and brothers,

Recent events of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd have left me grief stricken; for all the tens of thousands of people who died in this country and across the globe, and the death of a stranger at the hands of those who should be protecting all of us.

The pandemic has also highlighted the inequalities that exist across our society. People of colour are far more likely to die from COVID 19 than their white counterparts. I will not elaborate here as the information is no secret. We also know the inequalities that exist in the NHS – this is all information we can find out for ourselves.

The death of Mr. Floyd has reawakened us to the pain that is felt by people of colour not just in America, but in this country and the world over – and hence the protests that followed. We have also heard how Mr. Floyd was “scum, high on drugs, with a checkered past.”

But this is not about the behavior of Mr. Floyd, it is about a system that does not treat all people equally and allows that mistreatment to be normalized across society.

If he had been caught committing a crime, had been charged, faced trial and sent to prison, we would not even be talking about it, because that is how things should have been. But that is not what happened, is it? And this is a narrative that is true for so many people of colour in America.

The death of Mr. Floyd was caused by systemic racism – not the racist individuals themselves.  This is a system that allows for institutions and people to get away with racism and discriminatory practices, and allows cops to get away with mistreatment and brutality against people of colour. Systemic racism begins as far down as education, where young boys are unfairly treated and eventually end up excluded. Then according to police, they are subjected to ‘surveillance which then informs  ‘intelligence based stop and search”. But if you watch someone long enough, you will obviously notice when they slip up, or even drop litter, or whatever! Then when you stop them often enough, they will eventually crack and complain and resist – then they are charged! This is how the education system and the Justice system fails and criminalises young black men; their lives are over before they even start.

We have also witnessed the outrage at the ‘violence’ perpetrated on an inanimate object that feels no pain, injustice nor oppression. Yet that very inanimate object in its existence and presence symbolizes the COLONISATION, SUBJUGATION, DEHUMANISATION AND OPPRESSION OF PEOPLE OF COLOUR. In its existence, it did great violence to the core of the spirit of people of colour. So, what was that outrage all about? This looks to me like incredible cognitive dissonance!

I hear, ‘this is not the right way of protesting, we have constitutional processes to deal with things like this.” This is another cop out. People of colour in Bristol and their allies including our  own Black Theologian Professor Anthony Reddie have campaigned  and petitioned for a long time for this statue to be removed. Needless to say those calls were ignored because the statue still stood until last Sunday.

Black lives do not matter if we are outraged by ‘violence’ towards an inanimate object and not systemic racism and real violence against members of our communities and humanity at large.

This is happening in Britain.  This is happening in Birmingham, our city, and the West Midlands Police is under investigation by the IOPC for police brutality on black men, as we speak.

Sorry, but I had to provide some context to the questions facing all of us as fundamentally members of the human race, and specifically followers of Christ.

Do you have people of colour in the communities that you live in or specifically in your Church family?

Any idea how this has affected them?

How do we pastorally respond collectively as church to those affected, bearing in mind our call and responsibility is always towards the victim and not the perpetrator?

I hear  all can’t wait to go back to “normal”; is the presence of racism in our society one of the aspects of ‘normal’ we can’t wait to get back to?

I know all that I have mentioned is going to cause a lot of discomfort for most of us. I know in some instances it has already filled us with rage and righteous anger.

But rather than pretend or deny our own discomfort, we are better off embracing it. Just remember, friends, discomfort named is discomfort confronted.  Discomfort positively confronted without guilt or victim blaming has potential to be greatly transformative and can instigate change. This named and confronted discomfort also holds great potential to propel us into witness and solidarity.

I have been encouraged by Richard Rohr’s recent reflections on race and human relations.

Below is his offering for today. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

Contemplation and Racism – by Richard Rohr

Contemplating Anger Tuesday,  June 9, 2020

“I have learned to use my anger for good. . . . Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust. “—Gandhi

Today my colleague and CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes shares reflections on a “theology of anger.” Her words are challenging for white Americans like myself, but an important stage of contemplative solidarity is the ability to set aside our own opinions to listen with an open heart to the pain of the marginalized. I hope we can hear Dr. Holmes’s wisdom and desire for healing from the wounds of racism.

We all need a way to channel and reconcile our anger with our faith. A theology of anger [for communities under siege] assumes that anger as a response to injustice is spiritually healthy. My intent is to highlight three ways that anger can contribute to spiritual restoration.

First, a theology of anger invites us to wake up from the hypnotic influences of unrelenting oppression so that individuals and communities can shake off the shackles of denial, resignation, and nihilism. . . . Second, a theology of anger can help us to construct healthy boundaries. Finally, the healthy expression of righteous anger can translate communal despair into compassionate action and justice-seeking. . . . The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others, and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community. . . .

Collective and productive anger redirects our attention to the everyday survival and healing of our own community. . . Sometimes the anger of black folks is resistance but, more often, it is grief. During a demonstration in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after the police shot an unarmed black man [in 2016], Pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Ministry, publicly and peacefully challenged the Governor of Minnesota. He shouted into a microphone:

Your people keep killing my people. You keep telling me that you are going to do something. I just want you to put some action on it, put some respect on our people’s names. . . . This isn’t black anger. This is black grief! [1]

Pastor Givens wanted the governor to understand that grief, anger, and black joy are hard to separate. At funerals of young people slain by the police, expressions of black joy are common. This is not “joy” in the ordinary sense of the word. . . . This is the communal performance of resistance and resilience through dancing and rhythmic movement. Funeral-car doors fly open, music is thumping, and the community dances its defiance of death and the society that produces it.

We are angry, we are grieving, we are performing black joy as a sign of our determination to survive.

What is the anger and grief arising in you today? What actions of resilience and justice can you take?

Your sincerely,

Rev’d Farai Mapamula
Minister, Birmingham Methodist Circuit
& EDI Officer, Birmingham Methodist District.

2019_12_20 14_20 Office Lens

My Father’s mother (Terza Warrey) we called “Mum”, short for Mumgu in Welsh meaning Grandma. Above is one of the few photos I have of her. Yes that is me as a toddler, probably on our annual family holiday to Saundersfoot.

She was a formidable lady, and one not to argue with. I thought of her twice today, and once in the week.

The first occurrence was whilst watching Bargain Hunt whilst eating lunch, when some poor unsuspecting person was negotiated down to a much lower price on an item, and he gave in. I once experienced her asking for discount in the Co-op (Leos – department store) on a radio cassette player. When she’d beaten him down to a much lower price than on the ticket, and he’d agreed to it. Her passing remark was, “and of course you’ll throw in some batteries and a plug!”. His mouth fell to his chin. (Do you remember electrical items used to come without a plug). Her mantra was “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!” and “What’s the worse that they can do, say no!” I’ve learned a lot from that.

The second time I thought of her was in watching the Eurovision Nostalgia show. I have to admit that Eurovision is a guilty pleasure. After one year’s Eurovision, we had to go out any buy her Brotherhood of Man’s “Save all your kisses for me”, and then we had to buy her a record player to play it on. Her record collection consisted of Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz and Abba. All Eurovision entries we saw yesterday evening. So did I get my liking for Eurovision from her?

In the week I was speaking to someone, and discovered that they were from Reynoldston on the Gower. That was one of Mum and Grampa’s favourite places to stop on an outing in their Morris 1000. My brother and I on the long school summer holidays spent a lot of time with them, as both our parents had to work. We’d be packed in the back of the Morris 1000 and we’d go out for a “run” in the car “down the Gower”. Bouncing along the road across Cefn Bryn, getting a run up on the hill on the way up, and having the thrill of our bottoms leaving the bench seat at the back on the way down, if Grampa could get up enough speed. (She would tap the speedometer in the middle of the dashboard if Grampa (Frank) got close to 50mph and say “Furr, you are going too fast”. Sandwiches and welsh cakes were wrapped in greaseproof paper and packed into tin sandwich boxes (all re-useable with hinges – no plastic, tupperware was yet to arrive!). Tea came in tartan glass flasks with cork stoppers, everybody took sugar, post war it was seemingly compulsory! Reynoldston had a shop where you could buy Ice cream, it was cut from a rectangular block and served between 2 flat wafers.

Mum spoke Wenglish, when she couldn’t remember or didn’t know a word in Welsh, she would substitute an English word in instead, and Grampa who was brought up on a Farm in England, and never heard speak welsh would correct her (only gently) and offer her the missing word. I suppose working in the steel industry and later as a delivery driver for the co-op he would have needed to understand welsh. Every now and again, she would make Martin and I ask for things in Welsh. I was never proficient in Welsh, it didn’t seem important then. Some years later, Welsh was to have a huge revival.

I still have the Family Bible in Welsh (Y Bibl), originally owned by Mary Jones (not THE Mary Jones of the British and Foreign Bible Society story – but my Great Grandmother). It is a wonderful family memento, recording all the births and deaths of the Jones side of our Family, and later the Griffiths, and the Warrey’s. I need to update it to add in my family and my Brother’s.

We loved spending time with them, and thinking back now, I realise how much they loved us. Mum was a feeder, you never went without, and Grampa had the patience of a saint, even teaching me to drive (and I still don’t know right from left!)

Oh for a bit of nostalgia to cheer me up. (Gosh I must be getting old!).

You might be asking “Where is the theological reflection?”. Its just a reminder of family love and care, and “we love, because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19,

Today was the day of the final cancellation of all of the events I had been looking forward to this year.

The first to be cancelled was UniteBB, an event that I have been volunteering at since when I was a Boys’ Brigade Officer. Its my last link to BB. Why do I like it and why do I do it? Its an opportunity to meet with friends I have made through helping to build this festival. We converse by email and electronically through the year and then have an intense experience of building, operating, experiencing and taking down a great mini festival. Let alone the satisfaction of achieving something great with a wonderful team of friends, there is the camaraderie of the shared experience, and the shear fun we have, putting up tents, creating live sound and lights, laughing and sharing stories. The energy and the excitement of the young people we serve during the weekend is a huge buzz, and to see their faces when they arrive, and how much they enjoy the event, and how much it does for their confidence and letting them experience “life to the full”. On Tuesday this week, I would have packed my car to the gunnels with all my sound and lighting equipment and set off to have a wonderful week. I will miss everyone, and miss the experience. BB is offering a program of events over the weekend to try and engage everyone in a different way. I do hope and pray it is successful. If you want to see what they are getting up to take a trip to http://www.unitebb.org.uk/unite-2020/

Greenbelt Festival was the second event to be cancelled. We’ve been attending Greenbelt since 1984 (Ok I did miss 2 years, 1999 when I was in Australia working, and 2003 we went to Switzerland with Caroline’s Girl Guides). With the Festival cancelled for 2020, Caroline is Furloughed, and the remainder of the staff have gone down to 80% pay. Caroline is missing working, again with a great team of people. At Greenbelt, I’m one of the co-leaders of the Hosting Team. We provide the Hosts and the Comperes for most of Greenbelt’s venues. Again, I will miss working with this great team of people, and miss the energy and buzz of the festival. Greenbelt is providing content every week from now on, and staging a Festival at Home over the Bank Holiday weekend. See https://www.greenbelt.org.uk/wild-at-home/

The final cancellation was over a Zoom call this morning, after Methodist Council agreed to cancel 3Generate for 2020. That was a hard one to take, as I suppose I was hoping that this one event would survive, and hoping that by October things would be looking a bit more normal. Its a sobering reminder that this virus will be around for some time yet. The 3Generate team will be launching a new initiative called 3Generate 365, and I hope to be part of this. See https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/children-youth-family-ministry/3generate/.

I know in my heart that all these decisions to cancel these events were the right decisions, and we all need to do everything we can to keep everyone safe. However, my logical brain knowing that, does not help the emotional side of my brain, which is a bit sadder today, seeing all 3 major events that I look forward to every year being cancelled. these are the events that top up my energy levels, so I feel a bit drained today.

For many of my colleagues, they re-charge by going on retreats, to have silence in a monastery, to paint or draw, or sew, or craft, or hug trees. That’s not for me. We are all different. I like to do other things, different things, and be involved in a dynamic fast moving team. Ministry can at times be isolating anyway. I spend hours at my desk battling with emails, admin and service preparation (and now video editing!), or driving in the car. I need to be with people not retreat from people.

One of the subjects that caught my attention in the Mission during Covid 19 Webinar that I joined this week was just a start of a conversation on Lament. This is something I want to explore a bit more in the next few weeks. We have been subject to the shock of a huge amount of change, a number of our freedoms have been removed, and to cap it all, the one place we would naturally turn to for support (our churches) have been closed.

Often we put a brave face on things and carry on. I once read a book called “Praise the Lord, I have just broken my arm” or something like that where the author was calling out the strange habits we Christians have on putting a brave face on and carrying on, and trying to turn everything into an opportunity to praise the Lord.

Yes, we should praise the Lord, whenever we can, but sometimes we need to purge ourselves by having a moan to God, even railing against him for the things that have happened.

Lament is a christian tradition that goes back to the Psalms. Look at how the Psalmists railed against God and moaned and shouted.

One of our clergy colleagues this week received a nasty letter. So we pointed them to Psalm 3:-

Psalm 3 The Message (MSG)

A David Psalm, When He Escaped for His Life from Absalom, His Son

1-2 God! Look! Enemies past counting!
Enemies sprouting like mushrooms,
Mobs of them all around me, roaring their mockery:
“Hah! No help for him from God!”

3-4 But you, God, shield me on all sides;
You ground my feet, you lift my head high;
With all my might I shout up to God,
His answers thunder from the holy mountain.

5-6 I stretch myself out. I sleep.
Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,
Fearless before the enemy mobs
Coming at me from all sides.

Up, God! My God, help me!
Slap their faces,
First this cheek, then the other,
Your fist hard in their teeth!

Real help comes from God.
Your blessing clothes your people!

Here the Psalmist has a good moan about his enemies, and still remembers God.

One of our enemies at this present time is the Covid19 virus. So as I lament and moan, at God, I ask God to “slap their faces” this nasty little virus, “First this cheek, then the other”, and for God to stick his fist firmly in the face of the virus.

So I think a little lamenting will do me good. I need to understand a Christian response to lament, and how we spend some time together and deal with our loss and grief together. We will see if we can find some time in collective worship to explore this together.

In the meantime, listen to Rend Collective trying to explain this and take a listen to this Song – Weep with me:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfXwzMi1FxA 

So if you are having a bad day. Take a moment to Lament, take a moment to have a moan to God, then when you are ready read some psalms.

Remember, through all of this our God loves us, and we can cheer each other by sharing our concerns, and our laments, and then once we are through the sadness, we can turn around and face God again, and turn back to praise.

 

 

 

Encouragement for us all from the next Archbishop of York. A friend put this up: + Stephen Cottrell writing in the Telegraph…

The Church will emerge from the coronavirus crisis even stronger
STEPHEN COTTRELL
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK DESIGNATE

On the first Easter day, Jesus wasn’t recognised. Mary Magdalene famously mistook him for the gardener. Cleopas and his companion didn’t know the identity of the stranger who walked at their side. Not being able to recognise things as they are, nor see where God is at work, is a common theme at Easter. As we approach Pentecost, it is still happening today.

During the coronavirus crisis, the Church of England has been accused of vacating the public square or of being absent. It was even implied that the decision to close churches for public worship was made by the Church, not the Government. Of course it wasn’t. The Church is following government guidance. Since we are in the middle of the biggest public health crisis in a century it is incumbent on all of us to do the same.

With regard to the main charge – the Church’s absence – I simply do not recognise it. The Church of England has been astonishingly present, albeit in many new and remarkable ways.

To test my hypothesis, I contacted a handful of clergy in the Chelmsford diocese where, until recently, I was the bishop. I asked them what they had been doing during the lockdown. Within moments I heard stories of a church in Ilford that has set up a daily food distribution point in the pub car park. This church is also working with refugees and asylum seekers.

In Coggeshall, in rural North Essex, a telephone visiting service has been set up as well as telephone sermon and prayer lines. They have put baskets of home-made butterflies – a symbol of the resurrection – in the churchyard so that those taking their daily walk could attach them to a large wooden cross erected outside the porch. In Chelmsford, a brand new church that doesn’t even have a building yet, has started a Zoom Bible study group. The local foodbank wouldn’t exist without them. In Colchester, the parish priest has produced YouTube assemblies. The choir rehearses on Zoom and they run children and youth events online. Many frazzled parents and stir-crazy kids are benefiting from this ministry. I’ve even joined in myself.

These stories are being replicated up and down the country. Most astonishing of all, plenty of churches report very large numbers of people joining their streamed services. One bishop, who used to pray on his own each morning, now tells me he is joined online by many others every day.

Then there are the funerals we are taking – I have one this week – and the amazing work of healthcare chaplains. Is all this a shocking absence? With the greatest respect to those who are saying otherwise, I wonder whether they are making that most basic of all mistakes in the Easter season. They are looking for Jesus in the wrong place.

Of course, we long for our church buildings to reopen. But when they do, it won’t be business as usual, partly because we are discovering new ways of serving our communities. Even when we do return to the sacred, beautiful space of our buildings, with all their vital and much-missed resonances of continuity, I believe the Church of England will emerge from this stronger than it has been for a long while.

It is not one thing or the other. It is not in a building or online. We want to do both. When it is safe, we will. From this week, clergy will again be streaming services from their churches. But we learned ages ago that the best way to proclaim the gospel is to live it out. Those who see it are those who have eyes to see it.

As usual, this is most likely to be the poor, the sick, the isolated and the vulnerable. They are well aware of the Church’s presence with them at the moment. Ask the woman whose only contact with the outside world is a telephone call from the vicar. Or the family who are kept afloat by YouTube posts. Or those whose only food this week comes from the foodbank run by the local church. Or the bereaved whose loved one’s funeral is being taken this week. Or the two million listeners to Radio 4, the 600,000 people online, who listened to the Archbishop of Canterbury on Easter morning.

All these people recognise Jesus in what they receive. What they are hearing and receiving is a prophetic message about how we can become a better, fairer nation, and the practical expression of that vision through the care of God’s Church.

Of course we could do more. Of course we’ve probably made some mistakes. But to sneer that we are doing nothing, or have vacated the territory is just wrong.

Finally, might it be better if, as well as being a little kinder to each other, we also looked a little harder to see where God is actually at work through his Church. Then we might see a stronger and more servant-hearted Church emerging from this global crisis. Fortunately, the very first message of Easter is as relevant as ever: He is not here. He is risen.

Circuit Zoom Worship 1 100520 - Splash Screen

Here is the edited version of this Sunday’s Zoom Worship service for Herefordshire South and East Circuit.
Readings: Psalm 31, John 14:1-11

Reflection for 10/5/20 – as written and delivered by Deacon Angie Allport

The psalms have taken on even greater meaning in these exceptional days of the coronavirus global pandemic. While the context in which Psalm 31 is written may not be the same as our circumstances, it expresses many of the honest emotions of grief and lament that many of us are currently experiencing. Verse 24 alone, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord”, is one that you may find helpful to meditate on in these days as we wait on the Lord for the strength and courage that we otherwise find difficult to summon.

The psalmist prays, as we do now, for the refuge and fortress of God to protect us and for deliverance from that which is hidden and invisible, but would threaten our very lives. While written as an individual’s prayer, the psalmist inspires our collective prayer for the global community: God, incline your ear to us; rescue us speedily; be a rock of refuge for us; a strong fortress to save us.

In these days of isolation, when we have had to retreat to the fortress of our own homes, may we gain a new understanding of God as our fortress, the place of security and safety we turn to in this time of trial. God is not a fortress that barricades, but strengthens and reinforces, enabling us to look out for our most vulnerable neighbours, near and far – albeit virtually or from a safe distance.

There’ s something refreshingly honest about these prayers of lament which tell God how things really are, and this shows that God is interested in our physical suffering and our bodily wellbeing. That’s important to remember these days. The description of the psalmist’s symptoms is very resonant with our contemporary experience.

Jesus also turned to the psalms for strength and courage when enduring suffering. It is verse 5 of this psalm that Jesus quotes on the cross: ‘into your hand I commit my spirit’. This verse takes on particular poignancy as we face the reality that coronavirus has in leading to the end of life for many of our neighbours, near and far. It is into the hands of God that we entrust them to his eternal keeping.

And how we view our neighbours in these threatening times is brought into sharp focus in verse 11. Some have found it easy to ‘other’ distant neighbours who are thought to be carriers of the virus, holding them in contempt rather than compassion. Or we can find ourselves judging our closer neighbours who are panic buying important goods, while failing to understand the fear that motivated them. When the virus reached the UK, some of us became an ‘object of dread’ even for our closest friends – maybe even an object of dread for ourselves as we feared meeting others and infecting them.

Yet, Christian Aid Week has always been about how we can be good global neighbours. Asking ourselves how we can extend the love that never fails to our neighbours near and far has never been more important than it is this year.  When our own hands and the hands of others have become something of a threat, and when many are no longer experiencing the reassuring touch of a hand on a shoulder, or no longer being comforted by the embrace of a hug, the references to hands in verses 5, 8 and 15 are particularly poignant. It feels particularly apt to pray, with the trust of the psalmist, that our times are in God’s hands, and for deliverance from hands that might harm us, including our own.

As we wash our hands more carefully and more often, we can pray to God to hold in his care all those we have held hands with, carried and hugged. We can also pray for those who we have never had the opportunity to embrace physically, but who we have reached out to with generous hands, giving what we could during many previous Christian Aid Weeks.  And we can give thanks for all the hands that have made soup for church lunches, poured cups of tea and coffee, made toast for Big Brekkies, put up posters and bunting advertising events, sorted books and art for sale, and, of course, counted and returned the money collected. Christian Aid thanks God for the hands that have put love into action.

The world’s poorest people are the most vulnerable in the current crisis. They are less resilient, have less access to healthcare and will be less able to weather the economic impact. Christian Aid will continue to stand with them through this crisis and will be with them afterwards. Now more than ever, we need to share our love for our vulnerable neighbours by giving.  This can be done online via their website, details of which can be found on the service sheet.

The promises of the gospel reading are often offered as hope and reassurance at times of bereavement and will have a resonance for those who have lost loved ones in recent weeks and months, whether or not as a direct consequence of coronavirus. The words of Jesus are a challenge and inspiration for this exceptional Christian Aid Week.  His words of comfort: ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’ are spoken to the disciples who have good reason to have troubled hearts. He says these words at the last supper, just after he has washed their feet with his own hands, talked of his betrayal, of Peter’s denial, and his imminent departure. These are words of comfort offered for unsettling times and are also worth meditating on in today’s unsettling times.

With coronavirus resulting in many of us spending much more time in our houses, the spaciousness of the Father’s house, with many dwelling places, may sound appealing, particularly to those struggling to find their own space. ‘Dwelling place’ isn’t a term that we often use these days to describe the places where we live, but in this time of forced isolation, our homes have become places to dwell more than we may have ever known before.  Jesus uses the word ‘dwell’ again when he talks of the Father who dwells in him. And in these days when our church buildings have had to remain empty and closed, we are presented with the possibility of gaining a deeper understanding of what it is to dwell in the Father’s presence and to know what it is to have God’s Spirit dwell in us.

While many are turning to mindfulness and meditation in these anxious times, this gospel also offers us the invitation to spend time dwelling in the presence of God, and to not let our hearts be troubled. For those who can find the space, our homes can become a dwelling place for spiritual retreat.  And when we are finally able to leave our homes, we can still carry this dwelling place in our hearts wherever we go.

The gospels remind us how Jesus frequently rose early in the morning to take the time to abide with, and in, God. Maybe it is this dwelling with the Father that Jesus is referring to when he talks of doing the ‘works that I do’, along with healing, ministering and speaking truth to power. This time to dwell with the Father is the source of all his speaking and doing in the world. May we also take strength from our time with God as we consider what we can do in response to these exceptional times.

The honesty of Thomas in verse 5, a prelude to his honesty after missing the resurrection appearance, is an honesty to be welcomed in these difficult times. We share his uncertainty as we don’t know what lies ahead. Coronavirus has disrupted all routine and has many of us also saying: ‘we don’t know the way’. Thomas’s confusion invites us all to be honest in prayer before God, and to be honest with each other, as we seek to follow Jesus in these exceptional times.

At some point, perhaps not quite yet, we too need to face up to the honest questions that the response to coronavirus prompts us to ask – questions such as how we can re-imagine and re-create a world where no one dies of preventable diseases that we already have vaccinations for and medicines to treat.  Why are there still more than 7,500 children under 5 dying every day from such diseases? These questions take on a greater resonance this Christian Aid Week.

In response to their confusion, Jesus’ response: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life,’ also takes on new meaning through the lens of the coronavirus. How precious life has become when we have come so close to our human frailty and vulnerability. What are the new truths that we need to face up to now that coronavirus has shone a light on the weakness and cracks in our economic systems? What is the new way we can all walk together to ensure fullness of life for everyone?

The gospel passage concludes with the call to action being encouraged in what has now become a digital Christian Aid Week – a call to prayer. Right in the middle of the last supper, Jesus encourages the disciples to ask him for anything and he’ll do it. He repeats his offer that he will do whatever you ask in his name. These are hard words to reconcile with the prayers that have seemingly gone unanswered in these difficult days. And they may have been difficult for the disciples to accept in the events that were to follow in the days to come.  Yet these are the words Jesus wants his followers to remember when he’s no longer with them. He wants them to come to him, as he does the Father, with every cause, concern and request, even if they can no longer see him or be with him in person. These are words of hope and promise of connection for us all and always, but particularly in these days when we are so separate, but never alone. Physical absence and separation do not mean abandonment, and by entering into the dwelling place of God in prayer, he brings us back to the way, the truth and the life, again and again.

On VE Day 2020, I stopped to remember my grandfathers and their contribution to the war effort.

Grandad Knight – Fred Knight, my Mother’s father was an Army Sergeant caught up in the Japanese occupation of Singapore, his last act before capture was for him and his men to ditch their vehicles in the harbour to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy. He was then captured by the Japanese and saw out the rest of the war in the infamous Changi Prison, At the end of the war when they were released he remembered sleeping on the Billiard table at the Raffles Hotel. Only once did he ever talk about his time there to me. He held no bitterness towards the Japanese for what he had done, but he suffered from survivors guilt, why did he survive when so many of his comrades died. He told me of working in the prison hospital, and the horrors of changing the dressings of those with Gangrene, and seeing them lose limbs and die. Before they could be repatriated they had to be fattened up as they were all skin and bones. My grandmother Dorothy had to bring up my mother throughout the war not knowing whether he was dead or alive.

Grampa Warrey – Frank Warrey my Dad’s dad was a steel worker, so he was in protected employment as steel production was so necessary for the war effort. As well as his work Grampa was a special constable with the Police. I remember as a child wearing his Police Steel Helmet. He too faced his own traumas being the first to enter a bombed cinema in Swansea, finding many of the cinema goers dead in their seats.

Both these men carried their memories with great dignity. However, we now know that they would have faced PTSD. There was no treatment offered for these traumas. Ponder on all that they went through, and lets remember all those who suffered war trauma, loss and bereavement. Most of all lets remember, let’s commemorate these anniversaries so we can continue to learn the lessons of war, and work for peace and justice for all.

Easter 4 - Splash Screen

You can watch our Easter 4 Zoom Service here, or just watch the Sermon here

Our S Club Video is here, and the Puppet Video on its own is here.

The Readings were Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10

Here is our sermon:-

Another item to add to the “strange” list for this time of Pandemic is not preaching every week. For the last 10 years, apart from my 5 Sundays off every year, I have been preaching every Sunday, and some Sundays, two or three times. But it has been good to have the opportunity to hear others preach, to hear a different voice other than my own, to hear a different take on the scriptures. I don’t often get that opportunity. I am looking forward to hearing some of our other good preachers in this circuit.

It was good to hear Glyn last week, and I particularly today want to pick up on what he said about the early Christians being called “the people of the way”, as this is one of the themes of today’s reading from John.

One of the benefits from the way we are doing worship now and sending out by email or post the readings is that you will have had a chance to look at and ponder the scripture for longer than normal. In church often we have the reading, it happens quite quick, and then we are into a hymn and the sermon, all before you have had a chance to digest the reading. Take a moment to read the reading a few times through before the service, you can also even have it to hand as you hear the preacher. Perhaps that can become a discipline for us when we come out of lockdown.

You have probably heard this said many times before, but it’s worth repeating. John’s gospel explores who Jesus is, and the author does this through 7 signs, and 7 “I am” statements. The 7 signs are the miracles, the wedding at Cana, healing of the official’s son, healing at the pool of Bethesda, feeding of the 5000, walking on water, healing of the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus. I am not going to tell you all the 7 “I am” statements, we will find one in our reading today, and your challenge this week is to find the other 6. These 7 signs, and 7 “I am” statements all point to Jesus as being the true king, the Messiah, the one who was to come to save us all.

Verses 1-5 of this reading are a parable, a story with a hidden message or a hidden question for us to ponder on. John is prompting his readers to think “Is this Jesus the Messiah?”. The parable is another pointer to help the reader realise this truth. The bible often uses the image of a shepherd and his sheep to show what a good king looks like whose people hear his voice and want to follow him (or her). Another pointer to the truth.

I have many memories of using this reading at Family Services and Parade Services across my 31 years preaching. I can see myself making a circle of chairs with a gap in it at the front of the church, getting some willing volunteers out to be the sheep. (Complete with accompanying sheep noises). Corralling them in the makeshift Sheep Fold and showing how the Shepherd would have lain down in the gap to become the “gate” to physically protect the sheep and keep them safe; just as Jesus describes in the story. A simple action but bringing the parable and the explanation to life.

Just after Theresa and Gordon got married, when they went for their honeymoon, their young dog Dany, came to stay with us. Poor dog, she had adopted Theresa as her mummy and was terribly anxious, constantly looking to see where Theresa was, and looking at us with those sad Labrador eyes saying, “Why has she abandoned me?” We did our best to love her and care for her. Part way through the week, I decided I would be brave and let her off the lead in the park. I was fearful that she would not come back when I called her. She bounded across the park and ran up to be friendly with 2 greyhounds. The greyhounds were not very well behaved or controlled and started viciously attacking Dany and biting her. So, as you can imagine I was in quite a panic. Here was I entrusted to look after Theresa’s precious Dog, and the first time I let her off the lead she is attacked. I screamed at the top of my voice across the park “Dany, come here”, and much to my surprise and relief, Dany came running towards me with the Greyhounds hot in pursuit. I ran at the greyhounds with fists and feet flying shouting nasty things at them, enough to frighten them away. Fortunately, they had not broken Dany’s skin and she soon recovered from her fright.

Why did she come to me? I suppose she knew that I was her protector, the one who was caring for her at that moment, I was the one providing for her at that moment. I was the place of safety, I was the one who would re-assure her, and comfort her. I was the one who was going to show her love in that moment. She recognised my voice.

Tom Wright in his commentary on this reading reminds us that in the middle east often, even to this day, all the sheep in a village will be put into a common sheepfold, and a shepherd will call out his own sheep one by one, naming them. They will recognise his voice and come to him.

In the parable, Jesus tells of “thieves and bandits”, and he’s referring to leaders in his lifetime, either keen to bring the country into confrontation, or keen to hold onto their power by getting into bed with the Romans (ie Herod). We can all think of leaders around the world who we do not trust, and would not listen to their voice, and certainly would not follow them if they called us.

Jesus on the other hand, we are beginning to recognise his voice, and are beginning to want to follow him and follow his way, and his ways. We are beginning to trust him. One day we will trust him fully and follow him all the way to the kingdom. He knows us, each of us, and can name us one by one, and he does call us, and ask us to follow him. Let us listen for his call, and know that we can trust him, and know that we are loved and cared for by him and choose to follow him. Remember this is a sign of a true king that their people want to follow them.

Jesus has gone on ahead of us, and prepared the way for us, and prepared a place for us. One of the most comforting readings that we have in our Funeral service is that of John 14, where Jesus tells his frightened disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’

Jesus says, “Very Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep”. Its Jesus who puts his life on the line for us and lays down to be the protector of our sheep fold. It is Jesus who is our carer, our protector our provider. It is Jesus who offers us love and healing.

It is Jesus who saves us, often not maybe from nasty greyhounds chasing us, but often from ourselves and the bad decisions we often make in our lives. By following Jesus, and following the way, he encourages us to make good decisions in our lives, to love rather than hate or lust, to look to hope instead of despair, to live generously rather than in greed, to forgive rather than seek revenge, and to seek peace instead of conflict. By following Jesus, we like the author of Psalm 23 will be led to find good pasture – the promised land, the kingdom, eternal life, heaven, whatever we want to call it.

Let’s do our best to listen for Jesus calling us in our lives, and when we hear our names called, to rise up continually and follow him, and to follow all his ways, and to let him save us to be his people, his flock, his followers, his disciples. Let us go to where Jesus is leading us and serve and love those, he brings us to meet on the way to fresh pastures and the promised land.

Lastly Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. Abundance, an overflowing, “our cup overflows” as the Psalmist says. God’s love, when we look for it, when we can see it is in abundance. We are seeing during this pandemic and overflowing of love in our communities and we are recognising the sacrificial love and care that the staff in our NHS are providing, and many others. We’ve been blown away by the generosity of care and love in our community, the people who shop for others, who pick up prescriptions, those working in food banks, those making scrubs, face visors, scrub bags, headbands.

How do we respond to this? By showing our love and care back, in the clap for the NHS on Thursdays, in the minute silence for those who have died, in our prayers and in our giving.

What of a full life? Jesus died so that we can have a full life, a life fulfilled. Materialism does not satisfy, money doesn’t satisfy, love does. We will leave the last words to Tom Wright:- “The call today for Jesus’ sheep, for us, is to listen for his voice, and to find in him and him alone the life which is overflowing indeed.” Amen.

Count your Blessings

I’ve not managed many posts this week, it seems to have been extra hectic, and I’ve been buried under emails and printing to get our InTouch magazine out. Thanks to Rosi, Caroline, and Angie, weve posted 175 copies of InTouch, a Pastoral letter and worship resources and emailed the same to many others.

Over the last month we’ve become fr more digitally enabled in Herefordshire South & East and many of our folk have amazed me in embracing Zoom and Email to stay in contact. Well done everyone.

This brings me to the song pictured above, which we shared at one of our fellowship meetings this week, and i was encouraged to sing and share.

In the midst of this pandemic we have good days and bad days, up days and down days. On our bad days and down days, lets take a moment to Count our many blessings and name them one by one.

Take a moment to read the words of the song and maybe even sing it to yourself.

Every blessing, keep safe, keep caring, keep praying.

Phil