MESSAGE FROM THE MINISTER

14 November 2021

We remember those killed in warfare

soldier and tank

Having been born seven years after the end of World War II, I have not experienced warfare. Apart, that is, from the early weeks of 1990, when I was in Bucharest shortly after the collapse of the rule of the tyrant Nicolae Ceaușescu. I was visiting to see what could be done for the babies abandoned in the orphanages. Everything was grey: the wintry weather, the bleak buildings and the shellshocked people. It was my first glimpse of an implausible and widespread poverty. People moved about the city, fearful and empty: empty of food, empty of possessions, and empty of soul. The terrors that they had seen dulled in the reflected death of their empty eyes. They crammed, searching for hope, into what was left of tiny orthodox churches, after the tyrant’s reign of terror and the more recent battle for liberation.

My hotel room, on the 20th floor, looked out over the broken city. The balcony was damaged and the frosted glass of the parapet was punctured by a stray gunshot, the wound allowing me to view the ruins of the city centre below. Walking the streets was like walking through a battlefield, visible signs all around of hatred, struggle and blood. I shuddered. The earlier battle had extinguished what little the people knew of life. But the struggle was over, even as the ghosts walked free.

How much more terrible to have been there at the heart of battle.

06 November 2021

Global Day for Climate Justice

All eyes are on Glasgow and the COP 26 summit, as delegates from around the world are discussing what can be done about the climate emergency. Protesters are out on the streets, angrily demanding action now. The United Reformed Church is a family of Christians who meet in local churches across England, Scotland and Wales, part of the worldwide family of Reformed Churches, a group of more than 70 million Christians. We believe we have a responsibility to make a difference in our individual churches about the climate emergency and that’s why we are making a commitment to look at all our buildings and see what we can do to make them 'greener'.

The national Church is committed to acting urgently to reduce carbon emissions across the whole of church life, with a target of reaching net zero emissions by well before 2050. We join with the protesters to make sure action follows the words of the politicians, even as we know everyone will have to make huge sacrifices if we are to save the world.

What kind of a future will our young people have if we fail now?

01 November 2021

Making a difference for Christ's sake

shacks in Vietnam near water

We pray this weekend for a positive and far reaching response to COP 26; may those attending, do their best to come up with an extensive commitment to save the planet.

The start of November celebrates All Saints' Day in many churches in the UK. It is an opportunity for believers to remember all saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history. It is not common festival in the United Reformed churches of which Moat URC is a part. It is however an opportunity to think about all the faithful people that have shaped the churches throughout the ages and we give thanks for their dedication to a Christian lifestyle.

The history of the Church is not a great example of what many people expect of followers of Jesus Christ; all too often the Church has allowed a very human face, both good and bad, to be the witness to the world and the bad has very often eclipsed the good. People have done some pretty terrible things in the name of Christ, and many of us are ashamed of our past. But we believe in saying sorry and trying to be better in and for the future.

On All Saints' Day, and in the many weeks following we have a chance to say 'sorry' and attempt to put things right. I think people have turned away and given up on the church. But for some, there is a vision of a new world order, shaped by the words of Jesus, that wants to put right the things that have been done wrong in the past, so we might enjoy a future for all people. The URC, nationally and through its local churches, supports those speaking out for a change in the way we live, responding to Climate Change, supporting those less fortunate and working within communities, and together with all people, to make a difference.


20 August 2021

People of God

blue and white wheelchair sign

People with disabilities don’t want special treatment. They just want to be treated like everyone else.

As the Paralympics begin in the coming week, we honour and celebrate the determination and courage of those competing. In days past, any disability was seen as shameful, as punishment for sin committed. Even today, some able-bodied people stare and some are impatient, regarding those with disabilities as a nuisance.

Jesus touched the untouchables, healed those with illnesses, and made whole those who were broken and yet still some Christians treat those who our not like us as second class. But in God's realm, everyone is welcome to enter through the front door, and, as Jesus did, treated as the very people of God that they are.

There is a "welcome for all" - those are the beliefs we hold as Christians – actions need to follow words.


14 August 2021

Destruction on biblical proportions!

love our palnet handmade sign

After the joy of the Olympics, this week has given the world some stark news. July was earth's hottest month ever. Ahead of the conference looking at what governments can do to cut emissions and get the world back on a course of renewal, turning the policies of generations around to reduce the climate emergency, we are warned that we do not have long to make amends. If the scientists are right, we are entering a period of great weather instability which will result in many lives and homes lost through a rise on water levels, storms, and mass migration away from danger areas. The big existential question is: will humans survive?

Already, we can see some of the stresses and mental health issues coming out of the pandemic. On Thursday, in the UK, we have seen the worst mass shooting occur in over a decade. It was an event that was truly shocking and heart-breaking. As a response ,the community in Plymouth has held a vigil in respect of those who lost their lives; people coming together to remember the dead and to try to make sense of what was senseless.

The great biblical story of Noah's Flood starts with God seeing what a mess people were making of the earth; God regrets having created us humans and seeks to destroy the world in an act of uncreation, saving only Noah and Noah's family, and two of each animal. The flood, when it comes, sets the ark in which the family and creatures exist, up on the waves. The tale tells of the wholesale destruction of the earth. But there is a twist to the story as Noah survives the destruction and is saved to people future generations. The fable ends with a promise from God: never again will the earth be destroyed by the Flood. Even in biblical times, there was recognition that humans can be very destructive. Will God save us… or is God now asking each one of us to save ourselves and each other?


01 August 2021

Is it summer for everyone?

shacks in Vietnam near water

A walk on a beach, a swim in the sea – sandcastles and kiss-me-quick hats. Summer! Hot and not so hot, calm and also windy. Breakfast in the garden, or on the balcony, or in a café. Ice cream. Family time or on your own. Holidays or stay at home. Playing in the courtyard or on the computer. Suntan lotion, swimming pools, Olympic Games

Whatever it is that reminds you of this time of the year. Enjoy and relax. You may be fortunate to be able to have a break, from the daily rounds, from a job, from the children; or you may be fixing a boiler, keeping the NHS afloat, struggling with excitable children.

Whether you can take a break or whether you need to keep earning, whether you can rest up or busy with taking the children on outings, in the sunshine everything feels happier, sometimes.

But can we take a break from thinking about the collapsing of the world, global emergency, illness and grief. We might like to, but sometimes life simply gets in the way.

Our God, in spirit, in creativity, in human closeness and concern, keeps loving. And love is, as they say, what keeps the world turning. In other parts of the world, it is winter, it is stormy, it is harsh. But God's love is for everyone and for all times and in all places.


24 July 2021

What's happened to the Common Good?

covid 19 mask

I chose to become a minister of religion, not a policeman. But in the days of Covid, I feel sometimes that is what I have become: a policeman! Trying to keep people safe – and everyone wants the church building to be a place of safety, don't they? – has become a difficult and lonely role. During the second world war, everyone was responsible to make sure blackouts were up and effective – one light could show up in the night sky and be a target for bombers. We've all seen Dad's Army and the constant vigilance on keeping the lights out. It is the same now – but this is about wearing face coverings and social distancing. Even though the government has eased up on the restrictions, churches are being asked to continue to ensure safety above all else is maintained.

Most people look out for one another. It has become, however, for some, ok to put yourself first, in our society; to make sure you're ok, over and above everyone else. I was brought up, even if people didn't always keep to it, with the idea that the Common Good overrode my personal desires and wants. It was a mark of good neighbourliness and a sign of common decency. But, sometimes I ask myself: where has that attitude gone?

Jesus, we are told in all the four gospels, fed the multitudes from the few loaves, and fishes, brought to the party by a small boy. The story goes that Jesus took what someone had and after saying thank you, shared it so everyone could have 'as much as they wanted'. The miracle was that when this was shared there was still much left over to fill 12 baskets.

It is hard to live up to the standards set by Jesus and most of us fail. But perhaps when you think about whether you'll wear a mask today, you might consider those who are vulnerable, the people who through illness have no immune system to protect them, those still not vaccinated and those already sick and vulnerable to catastrophic illness.

18 July 2021

Will the Olympics still hold its magic?

an athletics stadium

That sporting festival known as the Olympic Games is due to start in the coming week. After a year's delay, the sportsmen and women are gathering in Tokyo to prepare to amaze and thrill us all in displays of winning and losing, of highs and lows, of intimacy and spectacle, but in empty stadiums and arenas, the only audience being present through the modern technology of TV and on line. How exciting will the 100 metre sprint be without the screaming background of supporters and commentators urging them on. Will any race be quite the same?

Maybe it is unfair to contrast such a major world occasion with the small-time local event called church-going. But if we do, the experience of saying goodbye to loved ones, weddings without receptions, worship without singing, has been the experience of church goers over the past eighteen months and many have struggled.

While technology has helped and for some been a life saver, there is nothing like a live event, with atmosphere and ambience, breathing life into whatever we do. The Bible has God breathing life into creation, the same breath as whisper, urging God's prophets on, and the pentecostal inspiration for the church. And some people feel that's what's missing when we rely on Zoom, YouTube, the internet and websites. But even there, God can overcome our reluctance and it can become a force of good, of connection, and, ultimately, of God.

And possibly, as before, in the Olympics, we will witness the world coming together as it always does; and perhaps, too, the spirit of the Games will lift us up and inspire us all.

10 July 2021

Loving one another - the Jesus way!

graffiti

With Wimbledon and Euro 2020 climaxing this weekend, and after eighteen months of restrictions, there is a taste of freedom and celebration in the air. Crowds are beginning to gather and, for some, an opportunity to get together with friends and family for the first time in many months. For others, they are fearful and anxious about opening up. They hesitate when before they might not have even thought about the risks that life makes for them. It has always been so; and yet there is still a heightened shadow preventing some from throwing caution to the wind.

At last, it seems our churches and worship spaces are also being allowed to ease the restrictions to the point that singing, that great 'no, no' we have lived with for so long, will be eased within church buildings again. The great festival of sport that has gripped us all has led the way, as we have watched the spectators singing to their heart's content.

But churches are not sports ground and we have a special responsibility to make sure when people come to worship they can do so in comfort and without anxiety. So, although the restrictions are eased, churches are reflecting on what is important for us and we will lead with a fair amount of caution so as not to exclude anyone.

Let's enjoy the sport and support our favourites, but let us do so with a care for others and a regard for everyone's safety. In Christian terms that is about loving our neighbour as well as loving God – the two are indivisible, after all – and lead by example in the only game that matters, the game of life!

03 July 2021

Not the world as it was!

strawberries and cream

Strawberries and cream can often signify Wimbledon fortnight and the beginning of summer. A time to unwind, enjoy the warmer weather and make the most of the light evenings. This year, the 19th July is developing a special relevance as people from around the UK start to plan life again as we always knew it. But will it be the same ever again? I know a lot of people are praying, some literally, for a return to more normal days, a return to the life we led before Covid. There is a yearning for those former days. I have found myself hoping for anything but a return to how things were. Am I mad?

I am praying that God will sweep us up into a new world, where we think about and act on global warming, where we reflect on the life we used to live and promise to rethink it so we give more generously and more gracefully to those who always struggled with 'the world as it was'. I remember the early days of the first lockdown when the air was cleaner and the sky bluer, when heavy traffic wasn't bombarding our senses. Life had become a competition: one against everyone else – winners but also losers.

Recently I have returned to Walter Brueggeman's early book, Hopeful Imagination, to acquaint myself again with the words of the major biblical prophet, Isaiah at 43: 18-19:

"Do not remember former things.
Behold, I am doing a new thing."


In his book, Brueggeman reflects on Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah and sees within those prophetic writings a context of exile, to help people enter into exile, to be in exile and depart out of exile. To let go of the former ways and to explore what new things God is doing in our world. They can speak to us today.

26 June 2021

Broken made whole

cubist style outstretched hands

Jesus did not heal the world of all illnesses. Although known widely as a healer, his use of this miraculous power was restricted to a few occasions; and we hear nothing of what happened to the sick person after being healed. Except perhaps for the one leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks for being healed. This individual was a Samaritan, and the story in Luke's Gospel says no more than that. In John's gospel Jesus calls Lazarus to come out of the grave three days after death had occurred and return to life, but to what kind of life we know nothing.

The stories of healings are littered throughout the gospels but specify only individuals as being healed. Jesus' power, the church believed, was not restricted but he exercised it in limited ways. But now the church sees the healing ministry as an important aspect of the task of God's people. It causes huge problems for many Christians: what of the many who are not healed even though for some, their faith in Jesus is immense; when 'healing' is used to exert power over people, like the so called 'healing' of gay men and women, from their lived expression of their sexuality to a misguided denial of all that makes them who they are; and there are many tales of imposed illness that require dramatic healing seen where churches abuse people who they say have the devil in them.

For me, healing is about making whole that which has become broken. Sometimes that involves physical ailments but mostly its about the fractured lives created from inappropriate or restricted upbringing or abandonment, poverty, hardship and misdiagnosis. Learning to accept people as they are, welcoming and celebrating them, goes a long way to bringing about wholeness and in these terms, healing is truly life-giving.

19 June 2021

Fathers’ Day

mans hand childs hand

Although not a specifically Christian festival, Father's Day, on the 20th June this year, is celebrated throughout the UK. It is a reminder of the role fathers play in our lives, and sometimes, the role that is missing from some families. Despite much of our community life being organised to suit men over woman, the male role is a complex one that has become more so with what some people call toxic masculinity. Much of the ancient world ran their world as a patriarchy, ruled by men for men. In our more enlightened time, equality is much more preferred and encouraged, leaving many men feeling not wanted or unable to find their place in the life of the community. Feelings of inadequacy and a lack of place in the structures has dented the wellbeing of a great number of men. In many churches the presence of men is hard to find; they have abandoned the church to the women believing the church to be more 'feminine'.

Much of the Bible struggles with what it means to be a man – from the very start in Genesis, men are seen as leaders and rulers yet torn apart by mistakes and failures. In the community known as church there is a place for everyone, including men, where people can learn the art of living with others without the need to dominate. A father works with other family members to create a place where the family, parents and children, sisters and brothers, can grow and harness everything that makes them human. At best, the church might well imitate the best of family life and celebrate mothers and fathers as people who can shape and support others. Happy Fathers' Day!

12 June 2021

Football – a force for good?

football boots

Over the next month, football will dominate our lives. For supporters of Wales, England and Scotland this will be an exciting and fearful time. After a year of lockdowns and restrictions, football returns to dominate our TV and much of the pub talk across the three nations. Euro 2020 is a year late but, perhaps because of the delay, many will be ‘over the moon’ to see the competition at last playing out, possibly whatever the outcome. There will be many heroes and probably more disappointments but for me, as someone who hardly ever watches football, or is even that much interested in it, I will raise a glass to one Marcus Rashford whose campaign to feed children and fight poverty has inspired and shown how a footballer can make a difference. His dedication to fight for those in poverty comes from his Manchester background which he has never forgotten despite his position as an international player and his probable wealth.

Former President Barack Obama has said: "When you look at the history of big social movements and big social change, it is usually young people who initiate this because they do not take for granted things have to be as they always were and can imagine something different. Like Marcus, I think we all find our own paths to that kind of service, but if enough young people do that, that is how progress gets made and how things get moved forward. A lot of the young people I meet — including Marcus — they are ahead of where I was when I was 23. They are already making changes and being positive forces in their communities and countries.”

I admire Rashford hugely; I’d love to see churches, of whatever type, encourage the young with more than just words, to lead us into the future as one people across the nations. Whoever wins the Euro 2020 competition let’s see a display of excellent football, played out without rancour or unwanted aggression, as a display of what we can all do to bring people together, helping those in need, and encouraging those who struggle when the world seems against them.

05 June 2021

Being thankful for what we have

cloudy sky during daytime photo

It is now some time since I visited Ghent in Belgium. I miss getting away very much. Over the past fifteen months, I have missed so much; we all have. I find myself moaning about the restrictions, about wearing a mask, about keeping my distance. I live on my own so the only person I have to contradict me is me; my complaints become exaggerated because I am always agreeing with myself. Is it any better now that I am able to be mix with more people, have a pint in the pub, even go to a concert? Sadly, the answer is “no” – I am still missing much of the life I had created for myself before lockdown ever became such a familiar word. I am spending too much of my life complaining about what is missing in my new ‘normal’ life.

And it is doing me no good!

Instead, I ask myself: why not try to look for all the things I am grateful for? Great nurses and doctors in my local hospital, for instance, who have cared for me with professionalism and understanding. Members of the congregation gathering in the sunshine and having tea together. The neighbour who took in a parcel for me when I was out. The cheery bus driver who welcomed me into the vehicle with a smile on his face. The comfortable home. The shops full of good and enjoyable and nourishing food. The children noisily playing games outside once more.

There is so much to be thankful for. And each day being thankful gives me joy!

15 May 2021

Abundant life

indian lady carrying bags

"Return to normal", people are saying. But what is normal and what have we learnt in lockdown and in the past fifteen months? We may have learnt that we don’t like being alone – isolated; but perhaps for some that has been quite attractive. We have learnt to 'stick to the rules' even as many have thwarted those rules – an intrusion, they might say, to their freedom. Churches, and other places of worship, have struggled with the idea of being excluded from their buildings; worshippers have not been allowed to gather in great numbers, or sing, or serve teas.

I wonder if we have learnt that we are dependant on one another; that our freedoms often come at a cost to other people’s freedom. That doing what we want can endanger others. Should we now be planning how we can change our old ways, into ways that benefit the community? If we are to break the pattern of this virus, including how it can change and turn into a stronger, more dangerous virus, should we not be considering how we can make vaccinations go to the wider world, rather than stockpiling them for our own?

We are challenged as never before, but if we can learn from our experience and be a tad more generous, maybe the world will change, and not return to what was 'normal' but return to a new way of living that gives fullness of life for all people. Jesus said: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

08 May 2021

Call the midwife!

indian lady carrying bags

Of course, I don’t remember anything about my birth. But the stories passed on from siblings and parents tell me that I was born one Friday afternoon, just after lunch, in the same bed my mother and father slept in most of their lives. My father was at work: one of my then four siblings ran to tell him I had arrived. The midwife who had delivered me was well known to the family and had delivered at least two of our family’s children before me. Much of the narrative of the BBC1 programme Call the Midwife was a lived experience for my parents and many of the stories the programme tells are all too familiar.

A recent World Health Organization report recently stated: the world is currently facing a shortage of 900 000 midwives, which represents a third of the required global midwifery workforce. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated these problems, with the health needs of women and new-born’s being overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and midwives being deployed to other health services. The charity Christian Aid is doing its part in responding to this crisis.

From Monday the 10th May, churches support Christian Aid week by raising awareness and collecting donations to give to the poor around the world, sharing our wealth with those who have little.

Beryl was a Christian Aid supporter whose compassion lives on in the lives of mums and children in Africa. Born in 1927, Beryl worked as a nurse and midwife for many years. Later in life, Beryl was shown huge love and kindness by a nurse, who originally came from Africa. It meant so much to Beryl that she decided to do something wonderful, and remember Christian Aid in her Will.

Beryl’s legacy gift is providing healthcare for those who need it most. Her gift is helping to build new health clinics and support nurses right now, like nurse Judith in Sierra Leone.

Learn more about Beryl
Support Christian Aid week

01 May 2021

Moat prays for India

indian lady carrying bags

A second wave of Covid is having a devastating impact in India. Cases are rising at an alarming rate, with more than 350,000 new cases in just 24 hours, according to Reuters.

Please join the members and friends of Moat United Reformed Church in praying for the situation in India. And if you can, donate to Christian Aid, a charity Moat URC supports, as they join with other national and international charities to fight poverty and build communities to respond to the medical needs of Covid 19.

Christian Aid have published a prayer we can all use:

I will say of the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’.
God of power and might we lift our brothers and sister in India to you.
We pray for your protection,
We pray for your provision,
We pray for the nations of earth to have compassion.
When people are in need, you are our refuge.
When people are scared, you are our refuge.
When people are mourning, you are our refuge.
Compassionate God, draw close to those who seek your refuge today. Amen.

Please log on to Christian Aid’s website where you can read more about the work they do and also donate.
Please give generously https://www.christianaid.org.uk/appeals-emergencies/coronavirus-emergency-appeal/coronavirus-response-india
24 April 2021

To life

multi-coloured balloons

BBC1's The One Show asked viewers what were the films they enjoyed most during lockdown and the favourite was the wonderfully exuberant The Greatest Showman. It is a heady mix of old fashioned musical delight with songs and dancing, and a spectacle for all the family. The story has a message that resonates with today's world of acceptance and courage. The overriding feel is a celebration of life itself! It is a big toast "to Life".

While in lockdown, we have all been feeling frustrated and low, struggling with one another, often in a confined space, or alone with no one popping in and certainly no cuddles and hugs. And at last even as we begin the long process of getting back out there we are still having to deal with restrictions. We are not used to that. Christians believe that Jesus was about helping people see and experience life in all its fullness - through reaching out to the lost and those in need of love, caring for one another and celebrating all that is good in life.

That challenge – and it is a big challenge for most of the world – means, for those who have much giving up things so that we all may share in the riches given to us in this vibrant and amazing celebration we call life.

02 April 2021

Good Friday

Were you there?

mural of headof cricified jesus
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?



27 March 2021

Palm Sunday 2021

man in green coat standing beside man in brown and red stripe shirt photo holding palm leaves
My song is love unknown,         
my Saviour's love to me,
love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?
Sometimes they strew his way,
and his sweet praises sing;
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King.
Then ‘Crucify'
is all their breath,
and for his death
they thirst and cry.



20 March 2021

The renewing and transforming love of God

yellow crocus flowers

We welcome Spring today. Most of us have already celebrated the new coming of snowdrops, crocus's and daffodils in the gardens, by the sides of roads and in many pots on windowsills and in displays. There is nothing like the sudden brightness of colour; even the flowers seem to be saying 'hello'. For many, this arrival of Spring is a reminder too of the blessings we receive from the creator God; there in the heart of nature, a telling reminder of the earth's bounteous gift to us all. At last, the hours of daylight begin to exceed the hours of night, the evenings drawing out and the fresh feeling of energy returning.

But also, in the coming days, we recognise the first anniversary of lockdown and a reminder too of how much we depend on the world, and the people in it, for our happiness and contentment. This time last year, as we entered lockdown for the first time, we were anxious, but with the coming of Spring, hopeful whatever was coming would not last long. The year has been harder than anyone imagined and as we stand on the threshold of a second year of living with Covid, we reflect on how much we have lost, and how many loved ones have died. We remember them.

We turn to God in praise, ever mindful of the spirit of resurrection in this season, the reminder that whatever befalls us, the spirit of love abides. We see it in the fresh flowers, in the increasing light, in the resilience of ordinary people, and in the love we give to one another. We open ourselves up to the renewing and transforming love of God in each and every person around us.

12 March 2021

A very happy Mother’s Day

brown and gray concrete wall photo
Traditionally known as Mothering Sunday, this weekend we celebrate mothers everywhere!

For many children, their mothers are the best. From their first breath, babies cling to their mother and the bond is strong. Our mothers hold us tight, making sure we are protected, fed and kept clean. The warmth of their body makes sure babies feel safe and secure. Most mothers will do anything to protect their children and help them grow and be confident to face the world. At first, food is the essential bond, while comfort and love helps the child to blossom and grow. Psychologists will tell you the early months are the most profound as a child learns to live outside the womb but close to their mother, so that later, they can seek independence in the sure knowledge their mother will continue to love them.

So we pray for mothers everywhere.

Of course, sometimes there is a break in the bond and both mother and child suffer. So, we pray for those where there is separation and hurt between mother and child. We also remember the pain where the child dies in early life or doesn't survive birth. The pain is unimaginable. We remember that not all children are born healthy, or able bodied, or without disease; we think of those mothers carrying the burden especially through early life. We pray too for mothers who do not care for their children and where pain damages the relationship. Christians believe the Church should be like a mother: supportive and loving to all people, ready to encourage independence and growth but always there when needed. Its an image Christians often promote but find hard to live. The Church is the people and as with all humanity, people are broken and often wrongheaded. But we are blessed with Grace: the knowledge that whoever we are and no matter what wrongs we have done, there is hope and grace to put us right with God and each other. The image of true motherhood.

So, happy Mother's Day - to you and to all you love.

06 March 2021

Sweet sound of silence

man wearing a surgical mask
This weekend sees the first year of Covid - we don't need reminding, you might say. We have all struggled. The church, nearly everywhere, has also been struggling. I am aware that people have looked to the church to provide solace and care in these troubling times; if not the church then perhaps the ministers. I have felt this failure as I know only too well how vulnerable I am. Not just about the virus but about the loneliness and desperation, and inadequacy of my response. Today as we reflect on where we are, I want to talk about the humanness of the church.

All too often we portray ourselves as a people with all the answers. We want, sometimes with too much desperation, for people to come to our buildings and worship; and we give the impression that by coming to church, all your problems will be solved. We portray God as the great answer to all our prayers and Jesus as the One who always gives comfort and help. I have sat at so many bedsides listening to people as they question what's their life been for.

It took me a while in ministry to realise I have no answers; just more questions! And the line in the Bible that says - "I am the way, and the truth and the life" often sounds rather hollow. For the key, I believe to Jesus, is to see how vulnerable he is and how he points to the vulnerability in God. Yes, many of the people who wrote the Bible portray God as all powerful - in the fire, the wind, and the earthquake, but do we miss that the Bible also says, that you can't always find God in the crash, bang, wallop, moments of life; instead, God is often more clearly in the noise of silence. In that vulnerability is where we meet God, especially in these Covid times: in the vulnerability of life, in our humanity and in our love.

27 February 2021

Opening the Bible

small boy on bench holding book laughing
Picking a book off a shelf in my study I came across a wonderful quote about the Bible and its ability to "speak in every language in every age". The book is about the nature of the Bible and challenges us about the need to let the Bible speak. That's quite an odd metaphor because for most people the Bible is a mystery, hidden behind mostly black covers, full of ancient stories of a time long ago. Considering the popularity of stories like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, I am surprised the Bible isn't read much. There was a time when most households owned a copy and some perhaps even read it; but it is infamous for the fact that it has been the most bought but least read of books.

If I was a betting man, I would guess the reason no one reads it is firstly it is a big book and even the best translations are full of complicated words and ideas; it may also be because people in the past, and perhaps today, have used it to bash others over the head with it, for the "wisdom" it contains and the morals it promotes.

I have been reading and studying the Bible for over fifty years and am often still surprised and excited by it, not because it teaches me my way of life is wrong (although it certainly questions the choices I have made), but more because it talks about people as very human people, misguided and sometimes morally inappropriate, with their foibles, willful ignorance and mistakes. For example, in one of the books about Jesus, called the Gospel according to Mark, the disciples are shown to be a bit dense who constantly get Jesus wrong! To me, it is such a relief that even the people who knew Jesus and followed him through his ministry, got him wrong - not just once but nearly all the time. They made mistakes, betrayed their Master and abandoned him - and yet, still Jesus loved them!

To such as these broken disciples, Jesus gave his message of love. It has been handed on through the ages by similar disciples and today, it cries out to be heard in every language and in every age. Isn't that something to be shouted from the roof tops?

20 February 2021

Be transformed in Lent

three pupas photo
For Christians, the walk along the way to Easter has begun. This is the period of Lent when traditionally followers of Jesus give up something to mark the season. In 2021, after so much has been lost, the churches urge people to turn away from giving up or even taking up something precious. Rather to look again at ourselves and those we love and find ways to love more.

The way starts in the wilderness - with lockdown, it seems we have all been here for ever and we are hungry for a return to what we used to think was normal. We are desperate for a hug! Lockdown has been very damaging to each and every one of us and especially for those living on their own and for our children. Please, I urge you to think about those around you who are on their own and reach out to them. Ask yourself: how best can you love the community in which you live?

Wilderness, though harsh and disturbing, was a time for the early Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, to develop into a new community, to order their lives in better ways and to grow closer together. In the Bible it tells us this was a period of 40 years! We hope this will not happen to us. Yet, it is a time for reflection and a chance to reorder the way we live our lives. Like the chrysalis, within which the caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, the wilderness, our lockdown, is a new hope to make that change and transform our communities so that everyone is seen as precious and loved. We can do this!

13 February 2021

A very happy Valentine’s Day

red heart on a blue background
In the heart of winter, people all over the western world celebrate love this weekend. A love which brings people together and is an expression of our care and concern for others. We buy flowers, make a special meal together and, this year, spend time with each other quietly. It is a time to turn to that special person in your life and give thanks for them and to them. Most of us get quite soppy on Valentine's Day but it is an opportunity to show one another we care.

Perhaps it is also an opportunity to turn to our neighbours and think about how they might be coping, especially if they are on their own, with family isolating some place else; or perhaps your neighbour through the past year has lost their lover and partner and, for the first time, are alone with their memories. Please also remember those whose relationships are in difficulty because of tensions in the home: of home schooling, or disagreements and even anger and distrust. We know that most violence happens in the home; keep a watch out for signs of harm among your neighbours, family and friends. Be especially vigilant this weekend when a lot of people are celebrating; do you know someone who dreads the weekend?

Christians believe God is Love! Not just that God loves us, which of course is what we believe but that love is of God and is God. At the heart of our lives, people of God believe in the creative and life-giving nature of love itself. And so, celebrate that love.

The great writer Paul says in the Bible: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

A very happy Valentine's Day!

6 February 2021

Can you see me now?

man sitting on concrete brick with opened laptop on his lap
Zoom is Church as we now know it. It has become normal for Sunday services to be livestreamed through either YouTube or live and inclusive on Zoom. As most of the church’s buildings are closed congregations are being asked by their ministers to tune in through invitations and websites to worship in a form only a year ago was very unusual. For some in the congregations it is foreign territory and lots feel so uncomfortable that they refuse or can’t worship this way. But for those with the skill and awareness, it is becoming what we do! Yes, there are negatives: we miss meeting up with others and giving them a friendly hug or handshake. We miss the opportunity to sing out with others even if our voices creak and croak the hymns. We miss gathering in one place to praise the Lord together.

But there are positives. We no longer have to travel great distances to attend meetings - a welcome release from long journeys, saving time and the environment. For those with child care issues a chance to worship at home. For those unable to come out, because of age or disability or having to work, a welcome opportunity to share with others in worship at times to suit.

The churches are realising too that it is much more possible to open up and engage with congregations in a more direct fashion, to interact and invite others to be part of worship. It is strange we know, but I welcome the opportunity to invite people who used to be part of the congregation but have moved away or even gone abroad. I know from my own experience how easily it is to join services in churches across the world and see how they do it! Post lockdown, I hope we will be able to return to our buildings and sing again with gusto but I also want the church to reach out to a new world through the internet, sending the message of God’s good news to a broad and searching world.

30 January 2021

Hope can banish the winter blues

frozen leaves
Winter is a harsh season. The darkness and the cold, the rain and the snow. But nature is already making plans for spring and looking out my window, I see green shoots and snowdrops already. In the middle of winter, spring is on its way.

And in Christian terms, the road to Easter has already begun. The Bible readings for this time of the year have begun pointing to the Cross. The aim of the readings is not to push Jesus ever nearer to his moment of crucifixion, but slowly, reflectively, to give today’s Christians a chance to ponder what the Cross might mean for them and the world. Soon, the period of Lent will formalise that reflection, but for now, there are just gentle hints and suggestions that entice us to think.

During lockdown many are alone and have too much time on their hands, others with home teaching and working from home, have too little time. Some are stressed by loneliness and isolation; others are stressed because they don’t know what to do with the children.

We are all grieving for the things we have lost, and like the grieving of a death, we too have to cope with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and only eventually, acceptance. Recent thinking has added an extra stage: acceptance doesn’t happen till we have made sense of what we have lost. And that’s what we need to start doing now. And the way Christians do that is to try to find Hope even in the Cross and the death of Jesus.

The world doesn’t stop in winter - it is always moving even though we can’t see it. Nature continues through winter and many plants use the dark and cold to regenerate in new growth for the spring. If we open our senses to the world, we can sense the new beginnings even in the heart of this pandemic. If it feels like God has packed up and gone on holiday, God hasn’t. God is waiting for us to notice what God is doing...
22 January 2021

Preaching a message of love

footprints on a sandy beach
I felt real relief this week when Joe Biden became President of the United States. Watching the four year inauguration event from the UK, something I've done for some years now, was also rather sobering. Lady Gaga let rip, and a young black woman, Amanda Gorman, read her poem with elegance and grace, and a senior man with a folksy style talks of unity. It was understated but the relief was everywhere on show. No one knows what or where the US will go in the next few years, tackling a vicious virus, mending broken lives torn apart by illness, poverty and the colour of skin, will all be a burden for the most optimistic of souls. But it was clear that the calm and dignity of the occasion would serve to set a new tone in the political life there in the States.

One of the starkest aspects of the story of Jesus is the ordinariness of the tale. Rome was the power in charge and anyone who knows anything about Roman emperors, will know that it was a harsh regime that kept power always within its grasp and that power was exercised quickly and profoundly. Into that world came the Messiah and there was hope and expectations for a great military leader to confront and fight the Romans. Instead, in a town far away from all the action, Jesus enters, quietly, tenderly even, but with a message of change and repentance. He calls rough fishermen and gentle women to his side and goes about his ministry healing people, changing lives and giving hope to those who had no hope.

For Jesus, there was no pomp, no national inauguration, no trumpets, poems or songs. Just the noise of his gentle feet on the earth, showing affection and tenderness, turning worlds upside down and preaching a message of love.

16 January 2021

Stand up for Jesus!

a blue door partially ajar

The events happening in Washington DC are disturbing for all democracies. And particularly disturbing for world wide Christians. For quite a few years now, the media have focussed on a narrative that there is only one Christian view and to be a Christian means certain political allegiances. No matter that Christianity has also contained as a leaders, people like Desmond Tutu in South Africa, Rowan Williams in the UK and one might add Pope Francis, all of whom share different and differing approaches. With the media promoting one flavour of Christianity over any other there are consequences for those of us who take a different view. If I was an American pastor, I wouldn't want to be portrayed as someone who supported a President that called for violence, or who praised the rich and powerful over all others, or who was content to destroy parts of his own country as a cost to those who for generations have valued that land. But with the weight of the media and social media against me, I might be afraid to stand up and be different.

So, where are the media voices portraying Christianity as a voice for the poor over the rich and powerful, a voice for peace over violence as at the heart of our faith or a Christianity that values all people and creation itself? For those of us who see our faith in these terms it is an uncomfortable reality to live in a world that trashes so many of our values and ideals. And so we fight on; helping and encouraging each other to be seen as champions of a fair deal for children, for families; who welcome those who are different and seeing God's love in their eyes; and believe putting others first over our own needs is a Christian value.

It seems true that over the centuries the church has not been great at living the Gospel - and we can all point to things the church has supported and encouraged and done that do not speak of God's love, but, today, let those of us who picture a world very different from what it is, stand up, be vocal, and fight for God's vision with every ounce of courage.

09 January 2021

Keep safe!

clouds and forest

The great leader Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in an act of liberation. The people had been slaves to the Egyptians and in the biblical book Exodus we read what a struggle Moses had to convince his people that going out into the wilderness was the right thing to do. The people wanted to return all the time to what they had as slaves. They longed to return to what they knew!

People tend not to like change; often it has to be forced on to them. They prefer what they know. So, after ten months of a pandemic, understandably, people wish to return to life as it was. No one knows what this new year will bring: are there signs of hope, or is there a continuation of the upheavals of 2020. One thing to be sure of, I think, is that nothing will be the same. That's very disturbing for people and it comes with a lot of fear.

When Jesus arrived in the story the natural response, especially when seeing the night sky lit up with an army of angels, was to be afraid. The Angel of the Lord speaks and says - "Fear not!" Easier said than done, but today, we need to hear that voice of calm. Yes, nothing will be the same and the new strain of virus is very scary and lots of people will be affected if they don't stick to the rules - stay at home as much as possible, keeping masked up when out, keeping our distance and keep washing our hands. The effect of the pandemic is putting enormous strain - even fit to busting - on the NHS; so, in the short term we must stick to this important strategy. But in the long term, should we not be looking at what this period of upheaval is teaching us? About care of one another, of care of the planet and of appreciating and rejoicing in the marvellous people serving us in the hospitals and out in the community. We have needed to change for some time now and perhaps we are learning what those changes might be.

30 December 2020

Happy New Year!

people on top of the mountain during daytime photo

On behalf of Moat URC, I wish you all a very safe and bright New Year. For many 2020 will be remembered as the year we want to forget, isolated and without the support and care of loved ones.

We hope 2021 will bring a return to some normality but also give us an opportunity to learn from this past year: to review how we care for one another, how resources can be shared so that everyone is treated fairly, and, perhaps of all the lessons we have learnt, how we can tackle the climate emergency with the urgency it deserves.
23 December 2020

Christmas Message


19 December 2020

Drawing near to Bethlehem

white heart ornament on persons hand photo

We are drawing near to Bethlehem. It's a long haul but step by step we are getting there. Mary is tired and withdrawn, carrying the child and is so uncomfortable on that old donkey we picked up cheap. I am worried because I forgot to book a room in the rush to set out and Mary will need a bit of comfort if the baby arrives while we are away. There are so many others on the road but none help us or even greet us with a smile. How long now...? The census - who had that idea and why keep changing the arrangements. It would have been better to have stayed in Nazareth, not to travel. Those politicians never seem to know what they want! So, here we are. I must admit to being a little afraid; Mary is grumpy and looks miserable. I hope we can make it back to what we know in time. Perhaps we will be forced to bed down for the night in a field somewhere. Not the most comfortable; and she won't be happy in the open air. We passed some workers back along the road with a right scrawny flock of sheep; they had their heads down. Everyone was avoiding them; they stank. I hope we don't see them again. Folk are grumbling so; all around us no one is happy. As we turn the corner we see Bethlehem in the distance - a small grubby place - I can't see a decent pub anywhere. Everything is shut up. What a year its been! I can't imagine anything good coming from it. We step forward and suddenly we sense something special happening. Is it the baby stirring in the womb. Even though it will be tough bringing up a child in these days, I am sure it will give us joy. Perhaps, even, a hope for the future…
12 December 2020

The light shines in the darkness

chapel under a clear starry sky

One of the most moving and exciting things I have ever experienced was the night sky over the Andes. In that dark night sky the milky way, which I could see quite clearly, was literally breath-taking. The sky has to be dark to see the night sky properly but up in the mountains it is; and the stars shine more intensely. And so it is, in the heart of winter the lights are brighter. Christmastide, in deepest December, shines so brightly for us all - not just the Christmas trees, nor the decorations lighting the streets, but everything glows with an intensity suggesting even at this dark time, especially at this dark time, the birth of Jesus speaks to us all of light, glorious light. The author of the fourth Gospel puts it this way:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it!

For the ancient believers, the coming of Jesus gave them not just light, but great hope too. Their world was in great anguish and darkness. And yet God is revealed to the common people and to foreigners. Shepherds, the nobodies, out in the fields, away from the community, lonely, on the edge of things; it is to them that the angels first sing: "Glory to God in the highest!" For the Wise Men, foreigners, travelling from far distant, lands, God is revealed to them, with a star, lighting and guiding their way, leading them to Bethlehem.

In this tough year for so many, surely the bright light of Christmas is something to celebrate as God guides us and gives us all hope!


05 December 2020

Love…not just for Christmas

love signage copper and white

As we approach the end of this difficult and daunting year, people are turning to Christmas. They do so as an opportunity to bring some light into their world, against the onslaught of a pandemic that has changed us all forever. Christmas cards are being sent early, trees bought and decorated, lights up and blazing. Christmas! That time of the year when we put our differences aside and reach out to others, add some more precious pounds to the collecting tin as well as our tummies, reconnect with friends neighbours and relatives. Despite the obvious obstacles this year, people are already planning their festivities.

And at Christmas we celebrate love coming into the world in the self-giving love of God in Jesus. And we do so by, perhaps, exchanging gifts with our neighbours - people we hardly talk to all year - and perhaps by thinking more deeply about those less fortunate than ourselves. But what has been remarkable this year has been that the reaching out to others that perhaps we have only done at Christmas has been much more the norm for communities throughout the year. The stories keep coming of how complete strangers have become friends across all sorts of divides; how pubs and restaurants have found ways to stay alive by serving and giving to communities way beyond their usual clientele.

But also there have been the many - from all walks of life - who have continued delivering, driving vans, buses and trains, working in shops, keeping overstretched hospitals going and providing care and love to those who are stressed with illnesses, disease, accidents, loneliness and depression. The nation has come together in new and wonderful ways; love has spread like the pandemic, itself! We celebrate everyone who through this year has made a difference and shown love to friend and stranger.

Love…not just for Christmas!

28 November 2020

Advent

dark sky

This weekend sees the beginning of Advent and the start of the Christian year. Four weeks to think about and reflect on the meaning of the Christ child for ourselves and for the world. For many, this time is a period of busy preparations for Christmas - getting the tree out of the cupboard, setting it up and decorating it with baubles and lights. For those more industrious in the kitchen area, cakes and puddings may well be already baked and put aside for the festive day. Cards are written, presents bought (perhaps this year by the internet rather than the pleasure of going to the highly decorated shops) and invitations sent.

And yet, this period of Advent, like Lent, asks of us a time of watchful reflection, weighing up our thoughts, faith, and state of mind. A time of expectation not for partying, although I am sure parties make the depth of winter somehow more able to be coped with, but for an inward and outward setting right with ourselves and with each other. And so we approach this time, positively, looking for the good and responding to the challenges. We reflect on our relationships and how we act in the world. We look beyond our own concerns and give time and effort to make other people's lives better and more whole. We are encouraged to offer love and respect to all and especially this year for everyone struggling to get by; as we do so, we are challenged to give to food banks and shelters, to think and pray for those who will work over Christmas especially health care workers and support staff and to work for a better world.

And as we follow the star, let us commit to finding peace and joy for ourselves and for others.
21 November 2020

Jesus expects nothing less

mask lying on fallen autumnal leaves,slightly damp

With the threat of the Coronavirus affecting large numbers in our communities, this week has seen a focus on other, sometimes hidden, related issues facing vulnerable individuals. For many families, lockdown is a disaster. Shut up with violent siblings or parents, or partners, vulnerable people are at risk of being attacked, injured or even killed. In the past week, through Anti-Bullying Week 2020, charities and concerned individuals and groups have been raising awareness of the danger many victims of bullying are in. They have shone a light on bullying at home, at school, on the streets, in the workplace, and in care institutions, especially places that look after those with disabilities and people who are reaching the end of their lives. Right across the board, Christians believe how we treat each other is a sign of how much we love Christ.

Of course, it's not just Christians who care. It should be a mark of all beliefs and of none, that we care for one another. As part of Trans Awareness Week, I attended, on Zoom, a cross-denominational Kabbalat Shabbat led by trans people to mark Trans Day of Remembrance at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, on Friday evening - a truly remarkable service of power and sadness, reflecting on the prejudice shown to our brothers and sisters in the trans communities.

The United Reformed Church prides itself on having a strict set of guidelines to ensure proper safeguarding is in place in all our churches, especially during this Covid emergency. But there is more to be done and each church can make a difference by providing safe spaces for vulnerable children and adults. I think Jesus would expect nothing less.

14 November 2020

A place at the table

a laid table

"For everyone born, a place at the table." The first line of Shirley Murray's fantastic hymn. At Christ's table no one is refused a place!

Food is a key ingredient to Christianity, as with most religions. Food: sustaining, celebratory and building of community. Food. Jesus on his last evening together with his disciples invited them to eat with him, share food and share something of his life eternal. For Christians, the supper, communion, thanksgiving, are all brought together in a shared experience with Jesus serving each of us. Christians believe Jesus excludes no one and Murray's hymn celebrates that fact. But for some Christians it also makes them uncomfortable: for them Christianity separates the pure from the wicked. The United Reformed Church believes otherwise and you will find a welcome in our churches, whoever you are, wherever you come from. You will not be judged by the colour of your skin, your past, or your present, your gender or your sexuality. We celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion in all we do.

And if you venture in, there is a place at the table,

"to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free."

Words: Shirley Erena Murray: ©2004 Hope Publishing Company
07 November 2020

I pray that they will all be one

red poppy Jesus said, in John's Gospel: "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one".

There is a slight ambiguity about the word 'all' but generally people believe Jesus is referring to Christians. Given that even this is not easy, for me it is still limiting. I believe that Christianity has the challenge to bring together, in reconciliation, all people. A much harder ask! But one, I think, is at the heart at what I see as the Christian message. In times gone passed, it has been interpreted to mean go out and convert people, especially from far away countries, to believe what we believe. I find this most unacceptable.

I understand reconciliation as bringing people together even, and perhaps especially, with their differences. Not to become one block; but as one, even if apart.

Some politicians, as we have seen in recent days, prefer to divide people, one group against another. And there are many reasons why people often stand apart from one another. However for Christians that is not good enough - our role is to show the world another way. I have deeply held political opinions but I still see the need, no necessity, to bring people together and reconcile them. Our churches welcome all; especially those it finds hard to get along with. It is not about making others do what we do but rather for the sake of humanity to hold the world together so all can flourish whoever they are, whatever they believe and whatever stage they are on their life's journey.

As we remember those who fought in conflicts; let us remember all people, so called friends and so called enemies - as people created by God to live together and make God's Reign a reality here on earth.

31 October 2020

Remembering...

While death is a taboo topic among many, stone angel Halloween is 'alive and well' in the community. With restrictions in place, the usual tour by children of the neighbourhood may not happen this year but there will be large numbers still marking the day. The Christian Church also thinks about those who have died especially among the faithful, commemorating the 1st November as "All Hallows' Day" or "All Saints' Day". The United Reformed Church tends not to recognise the day, which I think is a shame. But many communities around the world have a holiday and party with enthusiasm. They remember with some passion those who have gone before, making the memory of past lives part of their own life in the present.

November has become the month of remembering, a dark month to think about and reflect on lives past and the heritage they have left to us. Next week, among the falling leaves of autumn we will remember those who have died in warfare - our 'enemies' and our 'friends'; a chance to ponder on the cost of conflict and pray for peace. It is with thanksgiving we learn to appreciate what past lives have contributed to the lives we live now. In Judaism, people often say, when they hear someone has died: "may their memory be a blessing". We remember and celebrate them but also give thanks for what their lives mean to us.

25 October 2020

A call to care

When those around Jesus, tried to stop a child getting close to the Master, Jesus stepped in, picked up the child gave them a hug and told his disciples: "whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me!" How we care for our children is of paramount importance; and a sign of a caring community. That's why people from all walks of life are responding to Marcus Rashford's campaign to ensure during holidays, half term and Christmas, adequate food is provided for the very poor in our society.

children sitting on a bench For churches, food is the sign of God's love for all and a symbol of Christ's presence among us. Jesus shared meals with all sorts of people and at his last supper, presented food - bread and wine- as a sign he 'stands' alongside us. Food poverty is unacceptable to Christians and that's why church members work together with those of other faiths and of no faith, in food banks, ensuring those who have slipped through the net of social care and poor wages, can feed themselves and feed their children.

The book of Proverbs in the Bible says: "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it." We care for our children because they need the love and stability to give them a basis for life ahead. Not everyone can become a professional footballer but the lesson from Rashford's childhood resonates and spurs him on to make sure no child goes hungry.

The young people of the United Reformed Church are urging members to write to their MPs and to support the campaign to end child poverty.
17 October 2020
Open for business - not quite!
We have all struggled with lockdown, face coverings, sanitisers and so on, first waves and now second waves. This new world we are living is very strange and unfamiliar. Yet, as adaptable creatures we are making the best of it and making quite a few changes to the way we live, even if sometimes, hesitantly. The Church too is trying to be 'business as usual'. And yet, we have restrictions and changes we need to make. What kind of God do we see in our present situation? For me, Jesus shows us the nature of God, living among us, challenging, healing, alive and responding to the realities of life. It led him to face the powers and authorities of his time and it cost him his life. And yet, in that death, we still see God working out some sort of transformed life to point the way for humanity.

Nothing stands still. Life, for all of us, has its ups and downs. We are forced to change, very often against our own wishes and dreams. The church, and its buildings, have been part of our communities for a very long time and yet now that position is being challenged like never before. We in the Church will respond. Looking along our High Streets, we see shops we have known all our lifetime, closed and boarded up. Will that happen to the church buildings we know so well? They too may have to close. But the Church is not about buildings, no matter how beautiful they are and how much we love them - but about the community of God's people - in and of the world, working out God's vision of love, hope and life.

The challenge for Christians today is to be that healing community amongst the people, bringing all people together in love and hope; thus offering everyone a life in all its fullness.


10 October 220
A vision of peace and reconciliation Bullying and discord are two recognisable features of our world. With social media and political discourse emphasising disagreement and the championing of the self over everything else, many ordinary people are feeling bullied and distressed. The second wave of the pandemic, much predicted, adds fear and isolation into this heady mix. For followers of Jesus, this world of disagreement is not a foundation on which to build. For us, Jesus was Prince of Peace and a reconciling figure, bringing people together - yes, he often got mad, especially when he saw a misuse of power or the self-righteousness of some leaders - but his ministry was to those who got a bad deal in life, the ones crushed by the powerful and made to feel like losers; in place of this, Jesus offered life in all its fullness.

Jesus shows us God's vision for the world; and the church, in our local setting, seeks to live out that vision. The church desires to build community bringing all different kinds of people together, listening out for the voices 'crying in the wilderness'; it offers a way of life which seeks out meaning and direction. It's not always clear but in all it does that vision is before the church leading it on and encouraging members to be agents of peace in all relationships.

This is not easy. We are human after all, and we often make mistakes, are argumentative and let our needs come first, over those of others. The challenge is to work hard at building up communities and to foster a spirit of cooperation and relationship. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." The church's aim is to live up to that vision and 'turn weapons into welcome signs and the lust for power into a desire for peace' (Wild Goose, Wee Worship Book 1989). If you find this a message of hope, why not take up the challenge and learn more about Jesus and his vision for the world?
3 October 2020
Jesus, the perfect host When Jesus held a party, it was a very special event. He didn't invite all the important people in the community but those who were unseen, dismissed. They were the new 'special'. They were the people who never normally get invited to any feast!

Partayyyy Jesus had a keen eye to uncover the injustices in the world. As he went about his ministry, wandering around the countryside and visiting Jerusalem, the chief city where worship at the temple was a prize and the political power base was focussed, he sought out those who were not part of the elite but victims of the policies of the powerful. The blind, the infirm, women, children, the sick, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, the homeless. Jesus made visible those who were invisible. For Jesus's celebration, these were the guests and these were given pride of place. Jesus often said: the first shall be last and the last first. What does that mean for us?

Jesus welcomes us into the realm of God. He invites us to make a difference to the world by turning it upside-down. The church is a place were you should be able to see this upside-down world in action, a place that, in miniature, we can see God's plan made real. And like a mustard seed, the church believes this vision, once formed, will grow and prosper.

The church shares bread and wine, the feast of God, representing, the body of Christ, sign of God's spirit, reaching out beyond the walls of the church into the community. And Jesus invites us all to share in that life-giving opportunity. I think the church today is only too aware of its failings but each time we meet in Jesus's name, we renew our vision of a different world where everyone is seen and recognised, and where everyone has a place.
27 September 2020
Jesus, the nightmare guest People are often asked if they could choose anyone - dead or alive - to invite to a dinner party, who would they like. Occasionally people suggest Jesus would be a good choice. I think they underestimate how uncomfortable he'd make them feel. To my mind, he'd be a bit of a nightmare.

I imagine it was the Victorians that turned Jesus into a meek and mild sort of guy. Someone, surrounded by loving lambs, who cares for children and offers healing to the broken and comfort to the rest of us. And in many places, that image of Jesus lives on in their minds and in the church today. But have they been listening closely to the sermon or read their Bible? If Jesus brought comfort, he also brought discomfort - a challenge more often than not to the way we live our lives. When I read about some preachers who are constantly asking for money to buy big houses and fast cars, I wonder if they're taken Jesus seriously.

Jesus a nightmare Some Christians imagine they are very blessed by Jesus and that entails prosperity as a measure of how blessed they are. But Jesus had no bank account and challenged his followers to give everything up to follow him. He lived hand to mouth, reliant on the generosity of others, sharing everything they had in order to create something close to the Kingdom of God. And there was also the issues of justice and peace to contend with.

If we are truthful, most of us Christians rather like our comforts, our warm homes and expensive holidays. If this year, with COVID 19, has taught us anything, we might see the great challenge of our age: the simple life, love of neighbour and respect for life, all life. It's a start but Jesus demands yet more from us - love our enemies, give our riches away, walk the path of sacrifice and cost.

A friend of mine posted a quote on line this week: "We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers. The Church does not exist for us. We are the Church and we exist for the world." What a challenge!

Jesus is a guest who not only turns our lives upside down, but demands we think less of ourselves and more of others. A nightmare guest, indeed!
20 September 2020
Counting blessings At this time of the year, Harvest preparations would normally be well in hand; but, this year life is very different. With the possible reintroduction of a lockdown, churches are nervous about what it might mean for them in the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, gathering produce from the garden, greengrocer or supermarket to bring to church and to share it with local charities, is not going to happen. It is all rather gloomy especially as Harvest is one of those festivals that make us feel glad to be alive, puts us back in touch with nature, and is a hopeful sign of the goodness of God. And, not least, churches like singing "We plough the fields and scatter..." which is normally sung with gusto.

It would be easy to feel downhearted.

But churches have a responsibility to explore the message of hope in the gloom of disaster and even pandemic. Although we are not able to sing yet in church, we can reflect on the words of hymns. One of the great church hymns - sung to a great variety of tunes - is "Now thank we all our God", and when it is sung the congregation is uplifted. It was written by Pastor Martin Rinkart during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as a table grace for his family, as the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann reminds us in his recent publication, "Virus as a summons to Faith". The hymn was written not just during the long war, but at a time of great pestilence when Rinkart it is said to have often buried as many as forty or fifty people a day. Although his wife also succumbed, Rinkart himself survived.

His prayer of thanks is set against a time of great trouble and relentless death, and yet he counted his blessings and still gave thanks to God. I'm not sure I have that kind of resilience in the face of such tragedy but I am reminded, with all Christians, that we believe in a God of Hope, a hope against hope!



Now thank we all our God,
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.


13 September 2020
Is church more then a building?

For the past six months, church buildings have been closed and people have found it hard to take. Members have been grieving for their regular, sometimes weekly, visits; not just missing their friends and the routine of worship, but the very bricks and mortar that make up the signs to the world that Christianity happens here.

Villages, towns and cities are often identifiable by buildings we call 'Church' - sacred spaces that in the past have acted as gathering places, locations to bury the dead, to celebrate weddings and christenings. On the grander scale they have been places of national importance where events and celebrations have taken place in the name of all the people.

To Christians they are perhaps the location to meet with God. Of course there are other places where people meet with God but the church is that special places reserved for the encounter with the Almighty.

So, Christians have missed their familiar places where they have always experienced the sacred.

Now, the people are once more able to pass through the doors, metaphorically remove their shoes, and gather together finding God in the congregation, in the specialness of ritual and in the holiness of a building reserved for the encounter with God. And so, after months of absence, Christians can gather again in the holy space, albeit in line with government guidelines. We appreciate the moment even more because of the privation.

But of course, God has never been absent; our perceptions of God changed perhaps. We are called into God's presence only to be sent out into the world to discover Jesus working in and through the world all of us inhabit, as always.



6 September 2020
The adventure of loving life...

The history of Christianity is a story full of adventure, comfort, battle and peace. On the one hand there are those who experience the faith as a source of consolation and encouragement, personal and private; and on the other hand some see it as a challenge to convince others of its rightness and opposition to the way of the world, public and corporate. For most, it is probably a mix of all of this. Although the media like to portray the Church as a single monolithic entity, forbidding alternative views, the truth of the matter is Church is a complex mix of many different and differing views; just as those attending, our congregations and worshippers, are a wide variety of people from all walks of life and from all kinds of backgrounds.

Indeed, Christians are keen to show people who have never set foot in a church how varied we are. For our vision is to reflect the world, in all its complexity, not turning anyone away or demanding conditions to being accepted as part of who we are. The fact we don't always live up to our vision is a bit of a truism, the aim is to share what we know and understand of Jesus, in a world desperate for some good news. For in Jesus, we see something of what we believe is the foundation of life itself: to love life and share its riches with those the world reject.

9 August 2020
Please pray for Beirut

If you've seen the footage of the Beirut explosion last week, you may have thought it was another act of terrorism; but as it quickly became clear it was a self-inflicted wound on the face of a once great city. Whoever thought it a good idea to store highly flammable explosives next to fireworks was asking for trouble. But as usual those responsible for the emergency were not close by; rather, the people most affected were the innocent people living and working around the port. The explosion was catastrophic and did an unbelievable amount of damage. In the days following, anger grew at those responsible for leaving the explosives at the port for six years. Nizar Saghiyeh of Legal Agenda, an NGO based in Beirut, told the BBC, "the responsibility for the ammonium nitrate's storage in the port lies with the ministry, customs, and port management." (BBC Website 08/08/2020)

The extent and magnitude of the destruction is mind-blowing and immediately a call went out to the international community for donations. The wounded and those made homeless measure in the thousands. The community hospital was severely damaged and unable to cope with the numbers needing their skill.

There are many organisations needing donations:
    • The Lebanese Red Cross Donate here
    • Lebanese food bank Donate here
    • Impact Lebanon Donate here
    • Beit el Baraka Donate here
    • Amel Association Donate here

The Guardian newspaper has a visual guide on the "how explosion caused mass casualties and devastation across Beirut"

Please give as best as you can. Please pray for Beirut.

2 August 2020
Glorious sunshine?

As some parts of the UK bathe in glorious sunshine, many have been grateful that lockdown took place during an unusually sunny spring. And for a nation like ours, sunshine is seen as good news. But the ominous truth is that around the world, sunshine is the great enemy. Record temperatures are being reached to a level not seen on earth for thousands of years. Rarely reported in our media, cities in the Middle East last week have been hit with their highest temperatures ever, reaching above 50°C; two weeks ago, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk experienced temperatures of 38°C and the Atlantic hurricane season has already started in July when the previous record of the earliest start recorded in 2005 was August 7th.

Suddenly we are seeing records tumble. We can't say we haven't been warned. But there are still many who deny global warming.

The Bible tells a story not on penetrating and destructive sunshine and heat, but of torrential, devastating rain in the story of Noah. It is clear that the destructive forces seen in our weather patterns are due to us humans acting selfishly, pillaging the earth and destroying so much of it while burning fossils and causing greenhouse gases. Churches have many calls on their time and energy but there is nothing more essential to the world's wellbeing than tackling global warming.

The United Reformed Church supports Operation Noah, their website states: "Operation Noah believes that the likelihood of runaway global warming raises questions that go to the heart of our Christian faith; that God's creation is a gift that we have a duty to care for and that the wellbeing of all creation matters to God; that climate change is about justice, because the poor of the world - those who have done the least to cause it - are already suffering the devastating consequences of the climate crisis. Acting on climate change is about loving our neighbours: that means those in other countries and future generations too."


25 July 2020
Jesus welcomes us home

There's a hymn Christians sing, about what the church is: it is where God is praised, where we are wanted and loved, where we try to live and to share out God's good news. In all its four verses it never talks about the church as a building. And yet for a great number of people, it is just that: a building. Or if its not just a building, it's the people who go to the building. One of my other favourite hymns is "The love of God is broad like beach and meadow" which talks about the wideness of God's love reaching out beyond our narrow horizons, and always reminds me of sunny summer holidays, walking the dog along the strand, building sandcastles in the sand or playing rounders or cricket with the incoming sea a constant threat to being bowled out.

Many of the older churches around are not very full these days; even at Christmas not all services or worship are as full as they once were.

You wouldn't have thought, six months ago that people are now seeking our church communities, and other communities of worship, and reaching out to the many websites, that have replaced our closed church buildings. Church is now on line, through websites, and on social media; whether it be Facebook, TikTok or Twitter, the need to keep in touch has been profound. Will the churches rise to the challenge and offer love, meaning and hope in these troubled times? I think failure will mean that the good news Christians want to talk about - by sharing, loving, giving meaning and significance to peoples' lives - will be an opportunity gone.

Jesus worshipped in synagogues and, at festival time, in the temple at Jerusalem; but more often than not, you'd find him in the streets and in people's homes, ministering in word and action. In the words of the hymn we started with, the church is where everyone is accepted, "whatever their background, whatever their past and whatever their pain." Jesus welcomes us home!




18 July 2020
The women around Jesus

The traditional view of Jesus has him carrying out his ministry surrounded by twelve male disciples. Less emphasis is put on the fact women also followed Jesus. As a man, it makes me uncomfortable to read that when Jesus was in danger, the men around him fled and denied they had anything to do with him. And yet, on the other hand, it was women who remained loyal and were there at the crucifixion and who went to the tomb on that first Sunday resurrection day to take care of his body. If you are prepared to look for them there are hints aplenty to indicate how important the women who followed Jesus were. Forty years ago, Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel wrote an explosive book, "The Women Around Jesus", and I'm still not sure the church has caught up with her insights.

Most people have heard of the two Marys and the one Martha; but what about Joanna? Moltmann-Wendel has an intriguing chapter on Joanna who, she writes, has been ignored by theologians and biblical scholars. A close reading of the Gospel of Luke uncovers that Joanne is the wife of a distinguished man whom she left - in that society, it was ok for a man to leave his wife but when it was the other way round, it was a scandal! She followed Jesus and cared for him and his disciples by making sure they had enough food and drink. And we read, on the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, this woman, Joanna, was again one of the women who went to the tomb to discover the body was gone.

Still today, when woman have to fight so hard to achieve a place in society, I have read a good number of articles reflecting on the different ways countries have responded to the pandemic. It doesn't take much to see countries with women in leadership positions have had greater success in beating the virus than those led by so called strong men, who have seen the numbers of people affected in their country escalate and out of control. Is there a common theme, I wonder?




11 July 2020
A Jew named Jesus

At the heart of Christianity is the figure of a Jew named Jesus. Over the centuries, he has become the focus of art and architecture, contemplation, debate, social concern, liberation, healing and martyrdom. Followers have given up their lives for him; some have gone to war over him. Some have related well to people of other faiths and religions; others have fought tooth and nail to keep Christianity powerful. It is a chequered history with good and bad springing from that single trust in Jesus.

Churches often play down the political dimension of Christianity, even though in the UK the church has held a position of significance in the running of the nations. Jesus was a great storyteller and someone who disrupted the peace of his times. His followers called him the Son of God, a title given to the Roman Emperor who ruled over most of the Mediterranean world. He was an affront to Roman rule and probably explains why Jesus was executed. Whereas the Emperor ruled with the power of an army and loyal local leaders, taxing the people whose land had been absorbed into the Roman Empire, Jesus spoke out for those who were the victims of the Empire: the poor, the sick, women and children.

I was in London yesterday and in Trafalgar Square, volunteers were serving a hot lunch and drink to anyone who asked for food, mainly the homeless and those who have come upon hard times. There was a sad long line of hungry people. The 'rugged individualism' of our world is here challenged by the sense of community, where we are each important in our own different ways, respected and loved. Jesus would have been both distributer and receiver of such humanitarian aid. In this way, Jesus lives today, not as some stone statue to be worshipped, but as a living experience, in and through the actions of those who share a vision of a just world and who seek to serve those we abandon.



4 July 2020
We need you!

Just as shops, pubs and hairdressers are opening up, there are calls for the church to open its doors too. In fact, the government has already given permission for some to allow private prayer and others to carefully make church buildings available once again. It's not an easy task; many members of congregations are vulnerable and the restrictions that are imposed to allow us to open are very…well, restrictive. So, for a while still, we are keeping our doors closed while busily working on risk assessments and making what are mostly older buildings ready for the rush. 😀

Over these past months, however, churches have experimented with all sorts of inventive ways to bring services into homes. Members have been worshipping through technology and this has attracted a lot of sympathetic views from people who have not recently attended church. It's a new beginning for many churches but is it where we want to be in future? We mustn't forget our buildings are a great resource for the community and all kinds of groups use them as their base. As numbers of worshippers have dropped over the years, churches have turned to all sorts of techniques to attract new members but overall, the church in the UK has continued to decline.

Why has it taken a national emergency to make the churches find new ways to be relevant? There is evidence that people of all ages are finding 2020 a time of heightened anxiety, loneliness and damaging of some community life. People have begun to understand their lives are not just shopping and spending money, even if there was plenty around; retail therapy still leaves gaps in our lives. They've been turning to places of quiet contemplation, to give their lives significance and a sense of direction. No matter what your background, the vision is to welcome everyone to church; we know we have not always been good at living out that vision. You may wish to attend on line or, when we are open again, in person. Whatever it is, we want your help in making meaningful changes to the way we do things and help us to be more relevant to you and the communities around us.



27 June 2020
Fighting for a greener world!

If you think about Christianity at all, you will probably know that the Bible is the book most Christians turn to for comfort and ethical teachings. You may know that the Bible is read out loud in church on Sundays; that it was written centuries ago and very difficult to understand. Even people who have been going to church all their life may find parts of it challenging. It used to be said it is the top bestseller, yet rarely read. And still, many of its stories have become part of the western world's culture and heritage. Many phrases which we take as part of the English language originate in the Bible and the many characters you find there are part of our common heritage.

We use the name 'Jeremiah' to describe a person who is pessimistic about the present and foresees a calamitous future; a prophet of doom. But who was Jeremiah? Did you know he was a 6th century BCE mystic in the Jewish and Christian religions, a Hebrew prophet who said that Jerusalem would be defeated and the people thrown out of their own land. The Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible contains his prophecies.

His message was full of doom and defeat in the face of an invasion from other countries. He had many opponents, politicians and other prophets who denounced him for his pessimism; why not, they said, be more positive and get behind the nation - make Israel great again, instead of always running it down. But for Jeremiah it was better to see the world as it is; not through rose-tinted glasses. In the face of disaster, despite his prediction, he was still hopeful and invested in the land; but he was also realistic in his judgements and urged people to act before it was too late.

Today, we face global emergencies and yet politicians are always declaring that everything is good, look on the bright side, they say. Ignore the doomsayers, the scientists. Now more than ever, we need people to call for action. I believe that the Church can be such a voice and join today's campaigners for a greener world.



20 June 2020

Happy Father's Day

To the Fathers this weekend who have not seen their children since the beginning of lockdown, we hope you have a weekend of reunion and loving joy. To others, a chance for celebration of all that fatherhood can mean. Family life for many is the keystone for security and comfort. It is the place where children's characters and personalities can grow and be a force for good in the world. Here, we can learn how to relate to each other and here, amongst those intimacies, lifelong friendships and loyalties are fed and encouraged. The deep blood links are forged in the way we grow up and the way our parents tend and support us; and in later life, how children can care and love their parents. And isn't it a boon recently to have home schooling and time to relate to and treasure our children.

Of course, not all families are the sunny uplands we wish them to be. Tensions of living so closely and with competing demands, poverty and lack of work bring with them terrible pressures when raising children. For some it may even mean the father is no longer a presence within the family; single parenthood clash with other priorities and needs; the death of a father is sorely felt. Fast modern day living with little time for one another has its own pressures creating many casualties within our communities.

It may be a surprise to many that Jesus was rather ambiguous towards family life. Indeed the Bible is full of negative relationships: brother against brother, parents against their children. Here there are more stories of discord than of peace among families. Yet for Jesus, God is portrayed as the loving and forgiving father figure. When he prayed to God, Jesus called him "Abba" (daddy) and taught his disciples to pray "Our father, who is in heaven…" When the son, who had gone off and spent all his inheritance in wayward living, eventually returns to his father, full of shame, the father rushes out to meet him with love and forgiveness.

Our dads might not always live up to the great metaphor for God that Christians cherish but this weekend, as churches, we can wish fathers everywhere: Happy Father's Day!



13 June 2020

Healing the world

During his lifetime, Jesus was known as a great preacher, teacher and healer.
Perhaps in our minds we equate preaching and teaching with speech, and quite often boring speech, and we hive off healing to the medical profession. For Jesus however, the three activities feed off one another; so, his preaching and teaching were profound because he earthed them in action, in healing.

Jesus calls his church to be agents of healing. On the individual level, by walking alongside those who are sick and frightened. By respecting others and not judging them. By supporting them in their own choices of life. To welcoming them and being their friend.

And the church is also called to be healers of this world - to work with others in preventing further damage to the environment. To fighting poverty and bigotry, wherever it raises its ugly head. To seek for justice and fairness for everyone, not just for those who are rich and powerful.

As Jesus said, reading in the synagogue:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
And Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."




6 June 2020
Jesus didn't have much time for those self-righteous people who thought they were better than anyone else

Matthew's gospel opens what Christian's name the New Testament of the Bible. It's a retelling of the story of Jesus and, for many, the basis of what they believe about Jesus. In the very first chapter, and after a list of descendants, Matthew tells the Christmas story of the angel announcing the birth of Jesus, a birth signifying the saving of the people and the sign that "God is with us". The reading for this week in June, closes Matthew's gospel with confirmation that Jesus is still with us, 'to the end of the age' and a demand for his small band of disciples to go out into the world and tell others about this creative love.

What does this mean for us today? Christians believe that in the story of Jesus we see a person who through his actions reveals something about the love streaming through the universe and the way we should act in the light of that love. But it is not just in his actions, but also in his very being. And so this story connects every person with that creative and loving spirit that is foundational to life not just on earth but throughout the galaxies. It's a brave and bold assertion.

Jesus didn't have much time for those self-righteous people who thought they were better than anyone else. He was about healing and reconciling communities with those at the edge of society; he'd rather eat a meal with tax collectors and prostitutes than with those who claimed to be holy and pious. It's a challenge for us all; to live lovingly with everyone else, to respect people who are very different from ourselves, to build up our communities with a bridge of love, not a wall of separation.

In response to the scenes from the USA recently, the United Reformed Church published a statement, expressing our solidarity with Black Americans. "…As Christians, we heed Christ's call that we should be one, we reaffirm our unity with all people through the love of our one parent-God, and we declare that it is meaningless to claim that "all lives matter" until Black Lives Matter.
We offer this prayer, bringing to God the pain and concern of our fractured world, condemning all violence and yearning for change:

Eternal God,
deeply troubled by what is happening following George Floyd's death,
and by too much other inhumanity that doesn't reach the headlines,
we cry to you as the one
whose love was the victor at Easter and
who pours it into our hearts at Pentecost.
As we observe the pain of a fractured world,
use your love to drive us from sadness to compassion;
as we watch the pain of the bereaved,
use your love to move us from pity to companionship;
as we are faced with the pain of marginalised people,
use your love to point us from complacency to your commonwealth.
In our praying,
let us not just talk to you,
but yield to your love;
in our anger,
let us not just rail against injustice,
but manifest your love;
in our actions,
let us not just flail about aimlessly,
but build the civilisation of love.
Until none of us are disregarded for who we are
nor any diminished by what we fail to be,
we keep on praying in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
(from the URC's statement published on 3 June 2020)



30 May 2020
Good to talk

This weekend, the Church celebrates with thanksgiving the feast of Pentecost. Sadly not in its buildings but still church together. We remember the story set out in the Bible in the book of Acts, of the coming of the Spirit in a wild wind and in burning flames, resting on the heads of the believers assembled in Jerusalem. As the gift is given, the gathered group is pushed out into the streets and there to preach. I suspect, like me, you might find street preachers a little embarrassing; you give them a wide berth, eager not to be seen to be associated with them. I, too, like the bystanders hearing this group of enthusiasts, ask questions and make conclusions: what does this mean? And, they must be drunk!

I am a preacher. Admitting that feels rather strange. Preachers don't have a very good reputation. We are seen as people who tell others what to do, how to behave, as if we have the key to life and our job is to make everyone else feel small and inadequate. I don't see it that way, you might be pleased to hear. I claim no special insight, no special position. I can behave well; I can behave badly. I am no more moral than anyone else and often confused about what is right and what is wrong. I am a normal person struggling with life and struggling with how to deal with life. I try, I fail.

And in that struggle with life, I am asked to speak. And I try to share in everything I feel and see and hear. And in doing so, I hope that people, whoever they are, will join me in that struggle. I understand in the story of Jesus that he met people where they were, challenged the self righteous and welcomed the excluded. In biblical language, he raised the lowly and put down the mighty. Unconventionally, he eat with people who were regarded as lower than low, he healed the discounted; when others wanted to put him up on a pedestal, he knelt down and washed their feet! He surrounded himself with people who were unimportant, who made mistakes, who betrayed him and hungered after recognition - his merry band of ordinary people. That, for me, is Church and at Pentecost we celebrate its birthday, a new beginning.


Challenging God, stir us up to fight for justice,
to stand alongside the unwanted in our society;
to confront those who 'lord' it over others;
to seek to bring people together, reconciling the world;
to forgive;
and, most of all, to love, in Jesu's name. Amen.



23 May 2020

Through this weekend, churches reflect over the story in Luke when Jesus ascends to heaven. As an image today, it can be confusing as we have for some decades soared into space. In earlier days, the image of a pair of feet disappearing into the clouds was the way they expressed this story; we on the other hand, find this comical and unreal. Perhaps we are more comfortable with images of thresholds and locked doors, as illustrating the gap between the hope and vision Jesus set before us, and our own lives as we live them. During a time when isolation is the experience of many, the way of Jesus tells another story bringing us together even as we are apart.
"As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" John 17:18

Jesus,
you spoke to those
we find difficult to approach;
you opened doors to new possibilities for them.

Jesus,
you opened the door,
between earth and heaven,
and invited us in
to a fresh relationship with God,
a new understanding of who God is.

Jesus, you crossed the threshold
between heaven and earth.
Breaking down the slammed door,
ignoring the no entry sign,
you smashed the way through
for everyone to come to God.

And so invite us again
to go through your door of new possibilities
whatever our state of mind or health or spirit.

And encourage us to show others the way
through the open door of your love.

©2013 Martin Hazell


16 May 2020

As the world struggles to emerge from lockdown, the Church remembers the confusion of the disciples of Jesus as they face life without him after the crucifixion. Jesus is dead yet risen; how is that? During his life Jesus promised his disciples that he would always be with him and after that first Easter, they knew his presence and yet they were confused about what to do next. It was the promise that Jesus made that helped these lost men and women face a world with courage and not a little determination. The promise was for an advocate, a guide and an encourager. The disciples believed that when they gather, Jesus was with them. It is our heartfelt wish that the church will once again gather, and we look forward in future days to doing that.

But we also believe that God's Spirit of love will be experienced among us at all times.

If you saw the BBC programme, Hospital, you would have seen the daily miracles of love in action. Putting their own lives in danger, nurses, doctors and hospital staff - ambulance workers, porters and cleaners amongst them - all giving of their best under such stressful circumstances. Here are stories from within our community of great love and service. Of course, we saw that not everyone survived in their fight but we also saw the passion and grief each loss meant to the medical team. For everyone mattered and was important. It was inspiring and heart breaking.

We applaud them, not just on a Thursday night, but every moment of the week. They are heroes! And for Christians and all people of faith, we see in these stories of bravery and dedication, the God of love in action. Something of love shines out from their tired and struggling faces. We hope and pray that they will gain strength from their successes in order to help them through their losses.

Please listen on Sunday to the URC service, found below, where along with Christians throughout the nation you can pray and worship. For your own personal prayers please use this prayer:
Communicating God,
who speaks through story and people,
we thank you for the gift of the Spirit
who treasures and honours us,
is always with us
offering direction and meaning to our lives;
and so building us up
to offer our gifts and skills to our communities.

We give thanks that, by your Spirit,
we are in communion with you;
that, by the same Spirit,
we are strengthened and encouraged,
shaped by you into keen disciples,
filled with the energy to spread the Good News.

We give thanks for the gift of peace -
the peace which calms the heart
and grows the spirit;
that makes us whole and beautiful
in your eyes.

We give thanks for the medical staff
dedicating their skills and expertise,
always,
to the service of everyone who needs them.
We give thanks for their courage and strength
and pray that they will find they are loved and honoured.

Communicating God,
speak through us and through our story.