Ministers' letters

romeo3

Dearest Friends

In October 2016, the circuit sent Vic Winchcombe and I to a conference. Now, I have been to many conferences in my life, but this one was life-changing for me.  The theme was, “Reimagine: Nurturing Mission Shaped Churches and Circuits”. I was especially moved by one of the keynote speakers, Revd. Dr. Calvin Samuel. You can find his talk (and others) by following the link: http://www.methodist.org.uk/mission/reimagine/reimagine-conference-2016/keynote-speeches

I was especially challenged by his question: “Can anyone like Paul, say, ‘I give thanks for your work of faith, for your labour of love, for your endurance inspired by hope?’ Are other people able to talk about what this church is doing in this challenging society?”

In February around 25 of us from the Circuit attended a District "Reimagine” Forum at Daventry which inspired us to look at developing ideas in our own Circuit.

There had been prayerful consultation following the previous meeting to establish the main priorities people felt should be taken forward. These were:

  1. Connecting with the community including building relationships.
  2. Seeking & developing opportunities for new ways of being 'church' including developing creative worship.
  3. Gaining confidence in evangelism.
  4. Working as a whole circuit to resource the churches and support each other.

The meeting also agreed the importance of underpinning everything with prayer.

Each group was then tasked to explore their designated area and to look at practical ways in which we could develop these priorities so that this could benefit the different churches in our circuit. I want to encourage you to contact me or the circuit office (we would then put you in contact with the convenors of these groups) – get involved so that together, we can reimagine a Church that is relevant to the time and the place that we find ourselves in. 

I have similarly been involved in several processes across the circuit - where we have been looking at where we are at, what we’re doing well and not so well, as well as looking at what we need to see as focus areas over the next few years. These have been very encouraging. So many of you are involved in offering fresh ideas that will hopefully help us to be more intentional about being Mission Shaped Churches.

In her inaugural address made at Methodist Conference, the Revd Loraine N Mellor, the newly elected President of the Methodist Conference, asked: "How are we disturbing the present in the Church today?" as she shared her concerns with the current state of the Church and her vision for taking radical risks to change its culture.

Reflecting on her worries over the "declining Church”, Loraine took a sobering look at the current state of the Methodist Church (which is of course not just our story) and its dwindling membership. As a potential solution, Loraine implored Methodists to take radical steps to change the shape of the Church, through a renewed focus on God-centered worship, generous hospitality and being unafraid of failure in evangelism.

Well, it seems like God is leading us, not in isolation, but that what we’ve discerned in our Circuit Reimagine Group, and in our different churches, connects well with what God is saying to the wider church.

At the recent Conference we also learnt that The Methodist Church in Britain has revealed a 3.5% year-on-year decline in membership over the past decade, with membership now at 188,000, but continues to reach over half-a-million people each week.

I think that it is important that we embrace this good news. Yes, we seem to be declining in numbers, but we continue to touch the lives of many – and that this presents a real challenge and opportunity for us. The Revd Canon Gareth J Powell, Secretary of the Conference, said: "At the heart of this report is a challenge - not with the statistics, but with the very nature of our being. We must take seriously our responsibility for being an evangelistic community of love - a profound giving of attention to another person - which leads people to Christ."

I invite you dear friends to be part of this creative and energizing focus of reimagining a community that continues to reach and touch the lives of the communities within which we are placed.

In the words of the President of Conference: "Because, you see… I don't believe that God is done with us just yet."   

Grace

 

 romeosig

Rev Romeo Pedro

 

RevJohnMarriott2

Travel Broadens the Mind.                           

Sometimes we think or are lead to believe that bigger is better. A simple illustration of this could be a sign outside a shop saying "All you can eat for £8.95".                                                                                                

On a recent visit to the city of Atlanta in Georgia I found the Coca Cola centre, and outside a statue of its founder a Mr Henderson, everybody visiting wanted to be photographed with this gentleman. Undoubtedly Coca Cola provides work for thousands or millions of people around the world making big contributions to the economies of many nations. That is good. What it did or does for the health of the world is another question?                         

In another part of the city is the CNN centre, filled with many visitors, it is one of the main news and media centres in the whole of the United States, holding great sway in all things connected with Media and has a big influence in what people receive and use.                                             

Just across the spacious city of Atlanta is a very interesting street, Sweet Auburn Avenue, which is mostly empty except for Sweet Auburn Market and the home of Dr Martin Luther King Junior and his centre. He was the son of a Baptist Pastor. In later life he acted and spoke out but was  assassinated, he was silenced but his message wasn't.                                      

Sweet Auburn Market is a vibrant place of life, living and building community, people sharing together. The people there had freedom, true freedom. Auburn Avenue was one of the most vibrant streets in the whole of America where former slaves and their families worked at living, and living life as full as they could.  This place was only small but it was beautiful, with a vast amount of history in that one street.                             

Why does such a small street hold such immense significance? It was where Dr Martin Luther King Junior was born, nurtured and grew up, his father's Manse is a museum to a great man, and just down the Avenue is the Dr Martin Luther King Junior Centre for learning, peace and justice.               

This area of the city has its own Fire Station just down from the Manse, it is a place where Martin Luther as boy would go and play, perhaps to annoyance of the Fire Officers.                                                                                                                                                                                             

What he noticed was that the fire crews where all white and this left an impression on him and had great future influence on his life, why isn't there any of us doing this work? Since when does the colour of a person's skin influence the ability of a person to fight a fire or to save a life? The answer, is nothing. Providing a person is physically capable, competent and trained, then that's what is required.                                                                     

Why should the makeup of the fire crews influence his thinking? When he was older and educated he researched this across a wider area. What was quite apparent was there was lack of equal opportunity for people of all colours and ethnicity to have the opportunity to contribute to shape of life and the world.         

The fire station was only small, six crew per shift I do believe. Bigger was not better in this particular case, it was better and more beautiful for it contributed to the germination and the  blossoming of a movement,  for "Civil Rights and Justice".                                                               

Walking became a major feature of the movement and people would come and join in, rallies would be held and the small words of "I had a dream would become large, significant, important and memorable".                     

There is no doubt Dr Martin Luther King Junior was an inspirational speaker captivating people, trying to break into the hearing of people who control and influence the make up of life, the people who give opportunity and can resource life. He had to start somewhere to work for justice for all, irrespective of colour or ethnicity.                                                        

Dr martin Luther King Junior received a Christian upbringing and faith informed his life direction, work and purpose. In the gospels Jesus talks about faith as small a mustard seed, bigger is not always better, but sometimes the small significant things do grow to be bigger and better.           

Our journey around the City of Atlanta was on public transport using the cities bus service, thoughts came to me about a small lady called Rosa Parks as I passed President Jimmy Carters Library, who tried to use a bus that also changed things, for the better, but that's a letter for another time.                                                                              

God bless.        

Rev John.

Rev John Marriott

                                                                                                 

tinabw

Have you ever heard of Julia?  She is my best friend.  We have been best friends since we have been four.  She lives in Vancouver, now.  We haven’t seen each other for about 20 years.  We can go years without speaking to each other on the phone, and yet, when we do, we just pick up where we left off.

Friends like that are a gift.  Deep, real, beyond even space and time, they are enduring and inspiring and comforting and altogether wonderful.

One of our friends in the faith is Prisca.  Ever heard of her?  She was a contemporary of Paul, one of his dearest friends and follower traveler in this journey of faith.

She is referenced only a few times in the Bible, however, the picture which comes across about her is one of courage, generosity, bravery, passion for Jesus and someone one not adverse to taking risks for the glory of God.   She is warm and loyal. She teaches others about the faith.  She runs a church from her home and in Romans 16, her group is the only one named as a church. Her deeds were well known in the early church .

Paul in his final letter, makes sure she is mentioned as one who is to receive his final greetings.  Now there is a statement.

Maybe you have heard of her as Priscilla, which would have been her more informal, or nickname.

Perhaps you have not heard of her at all.

I believe Prisca is someone we should highlight more as a follower of Jesus and in whose example there is much to commend, if nothing else, because she highlights so much of our about discipleship.  That is about being a friend of Jesus and one another.

Discipleship, being a friend, is about taking risks, about opening you heart, about being passionate, about being the church wherever , whenever and however you are.  It is about being generous and sharing the story with others.  It is about  being passionate and compassionate.

It is about friendship.  It is about being in a warm loving honest and real relationship with God, creation and the wider human family.  It is about understanding that we are all called to be as sisters and brothers with one another, even if that comes at a cost and that cost is sometimes about reminding others of that truth.

This is real friendship; deep long lasting.  Friendship with God and one another.  It is the friendship which reconciles and makes all things new.  It is the friendship of manger cross and empty tomb, which says I am with you always, even to the end of the age. 

God ever calls us to be friends, especially to the strangers in our midst and to live real lasting friendship, trusting in Christ, our guide and our friend.

And let us draw inspiration from the friendship of those whose shoulders we stand on.  They are there, waiting to listen and hear and tell their tale again, ready to pick up where we left off.  For that is Christ’s way.

 Rev Tina Swire

romeo3

Dearest Friends

On the 25th of May, we celebrate Ascension Day. The “beam me up Scotty” moment in the Christian Calendar. Well actually not really. Ascension Day has more to do with theology than geography.

Ascension is not about Jesus defying gravity but rather defying and defeating the principalities and powers that weigh down on the shoulders of the marginalised poor and vulnerable of society with a force heavier than gravity.

Ascension Day is a radically subversive day; as the early disciples of Jesus reached the conviction to start singing that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord. It was a very distressing day for the political powers! And of course it was a very dangerous day for the followers of Jesus who were now deemed a great threat by these powers. But more than dangerous it was hope-full: full of a hope that was able to disperse their fear and despair and encourage them to face the danger. Their hope rested in trusting that Jesus reigns — that Jesus is the power above all other powers. The early disciples knew they were on the winning side and were released to imagine a new world and creatively live it out – finding expression in the life of the Early Church.

The Early Church were a group of people who had nothing else in common, but their love for Jesus. They were all there, their differences overcome, for the simple reason that they adored Him. Christians have been drawn together for the same reason ever since. Even in this Circuit – we are drawn together every Sunday in spite of our differences, because we remember Jesus.

There is something about the everlasting Christ that draws people together. And when people are drawn together in a Christian fellowship, they all share on an equal basis, to varying degrees the same experience.

Ascension also reminds us that Pentecost is coming! It is of course at Pentecost when this diverse, alternative community finds itself wonderfully expressed. Everyone understood each other at Pentecost, because they were talking about the same thing, the wondrous thing of God. We are drawn together by God’s love and when talking about this common experience, we should be able to share in a Spirit of unity, reconciliation and understanding.

As a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples became aware of a new inward power which completely changed their whole outlook. They believed this because they were possessed by the Spirit of God. They became aware of the Spirit as a Power, because of the promise of Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. It is in this spirit of power that they were to spread the gospel: “and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”.  It was this Spirit that made it possible for them to not just imagine a new world, but to live obediently and to proclaim the gospel courageously.

I was so encouraged at one of our churches, where they have started using name tags on a Sunday morning – encouraging their diverse congregation to get to know each other better. There is nothing as affirming as knowing that someone remembers your name (especially when you are new). This very simple exercise is an effort to build relationships and to create a loving, affirming and diverse community, where differences are respected and valued. Well done!

Many of you will also be involved with Christian Aid Week (starting on the 14th of May), doing your bit for the marginalised and the poor. In doing that, you will be living the message of the Ascension (hope for the hopeless).

At this very moment in our world’s history, we can create alternative communities of grace and love, where all feel welcome, care for and all are affirmed. In doing this, we become subversive – holding before the world a model that is so different from those powerful voices that encourage fear and hatred.

The God of the Ascension and of Pentecost empowers us to bring hope and to be (like the Early Church), that alternative reality. We know nothing can change this fragmented world, but only a power greater than anything, the Holy Spirit. And we can be the loving, inclusive community through which the Spirit can work to do that.

Grace

 

 romeosig

Rev Romeo Pedro

 

Phil2015

On Easter Sunday little Johnny listened as his Sunday school teacher told the class that the lesson would be about the meaning of Easter. “Can anyone tell us the Easter story?” she asked. When no one volunteered to speak, she called on Jimmy.  “Umm, I don't think I know,” Jimmy said. The teacher reassured him that was okay and moved on to Betty.  “I don't know how to tell it,” she responded.

Finally, little Johnny decided to raise his hand. He said he would tell the Easter story. The teacher was pleasantly surprised at his willingness, since he was usually the class clown.  “On Easter,” said Johnny, “Jesus and his disciples were eating the Jewish Passover at the last supper, but later Jesus was deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. He was accused of teaching he was the Messiah and when he confessed it, the Romans made him to wear a crown of thorns, took him to be crucified, and he was hung on a cross with nails through his hands and feet. He said ‘It is finished’ which means ‘Debt paid in full’ and died. He was definitely dead because the water was separated from his blood when they stabbed his side. So they buried him in a nearby cave on Friday which was sealed off by a large boulder.”

“Very good, Johnny!” the teacher gasped excitedly. “And what else happened that we celebrate on Easter?”

Johnny thought for a moment before continuing. “Now, on Easter Sunday each year, we move the boulder aside so that Jesus can come out. And if he sees his shadow, then we know there will be six more weeks of winter!”

… and he was doing so well! 

In some ways it is much easier to speak of the great sacrifice and death of Jesus.  It is extraordinary, but it need not be seen as supernatural if you really don’t want to.  People will probably listen if you want to talk about Jesus as a good, even a great moral teacher and may even be persuaded to acknowledge a sad and horrible, yet sacrificial death.  But that is not the end of the story, there is a very definite “to be continued” attached to the end of Good Friday.

On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, and the resurrection changes everything!  Jesus being raised from the dead cannot be anything else but supernatural and miraculous.  Jesus was raised bodily, he wasn’t just a spirit; they touched him; he ate with them; the physical nature of it is what makes it resurrection and it changes defeat into victory.  The resurrection is the heart of Christian belief and our faith makes no sense without it.  The resurrection changes everything.

As they journeyed toward Jerusalem I think the disciples felt an increasing confusion and Jesus’ own heaviness of heart.  Then with Jesus having been executed they must have been very fearful and grief stricken.  And before they really had a chance to come to terms with all of that, first Mary, and then Peter and John discover that the tomb is empty.  The disciples left, but Mary waited at the tomb and Jesus appeared to her in her grief and then you can see it, hear it, feel it; what a difference! She will not be swayed in her testimony to the risen Lord.
The resurrection changes everything!

The disciples all found this as Jesus appeared to them and their utter conviction of the truth of the resurrection, empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, changed the world.  No one could change their minds. They were totally convinced. Too easily we allow Christianity and ourselves to be pressed back into the good moral teaching, “one faith among many”, that our culture would very much prefer.  We need to talk far more often about the resurrection, about our own experience of the risen, living Lord Jesus and seek to live with the conviction that knowing Jesus and the empowering of his Holy Spirit brings in our hearts. Let’s celebrate this Easter with joy and conviction, the wonder of Jesus’ loving sacrifice on the cross and the glorious fact of the resurrection that changes everything!

Have a blessed Easter,

Rev Phil Snelson
Emmanuel Local Ecumenical Partnership

alt

As I write this I have just heard Donald Trump repeat the phrase “America First” again and emphasise the need for building the economy through creating jobs and revitalising home-grown industry and productivity.

There are many issues raised by this new presidency which for me are completely at odds with the message of the Christian Gospel perhaps most importantly the nature of the campaign and subsequent legislation which seems to set out to divide race, faith groups and ethnicity.

Perhaps equally importantly the issue of putting one’s own priorities first fit least comfortably with The Gospel passage (Matthew 19:16-22) in which Jesus says

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

This is primarily about following Jesus but also challenges us about how Christians should view possessions and money.
I am particularly interested in how the passage from Matthew reflects on the current world stage and whether it is possible for a country’s economy to reflect this also. A good book to read on the subject is ‘Just Living’ by Ruth Valerio in which she explores the whole issue of ‘Faith and Community in an age of Consumerism’ and raises some important points about what productivity and creativity are for. God himself has been involved in creation and has given that same gift of creativity to humankind. It is natural that we should want to use and encourage others to use these same gifts to explore, to make things, to develop and refine.

But I am saddened by the inward looking way in which we can justify creativity. I am a great fan of the TV series ‘The Apprentice’, in which young business entrepreneurs compete for Alan Sugar’s backing. Of course I am very aware that significant editing produces a programme which highlights confrontation and competition thus making it more watchable! The disappointing part is that very rarely do the competitors propose a business which is anything other than relatively trivial as happened in the last series where one of the finalists was seeking support for his business of making novelty goods.

And we can begin to see instances in the wider world where large civil projects such as HS2 are often justified by the number of jobs they will create regardless it seems of the actual need of the project.

We are all consumers and we easily justify the need to upgrade to the latest phone or TV or tablet thus encouraging the disposability that seems to be at the heart of the need for higher productivity. But there are other ways of doing things. You may be aware of Sweden’s proposed legislation which gives tax breaks on repairs for everything from washing machines to bicycles. Now I am not an economist and it might appeal to my (sometimes annoying habit – ask my wife!) principal of ‘repair first, replace second’ but there has to be something here worth considering which could actually create work.

There is of course so much more to say and as always I am happy to explore the issues further with those interested but to sum up I want to ask what, or who, comes first for you?
For me it is following Jesus and the recognition that having made that decision, it should a affect all aspects of life and living, giving and generosity, productivity and creativity.

Deacon Richard Beckett

RevJohnMarriott2

Ministers Letter February 2017 : Time for a change?

            Writing is always a challenge for me because as you know I hardly write anything down or it is just very minimal. If I have to write I like it to be inspired, it to be topical or appropriate for a time, space, people or context.

            Often things come to you in the most strange of places, times of the day or even night. Sometimes it is good to go and do something completely different from the normal routine and then in those moments perhaps while we are subconsciously thinking something will come along.  

            Gardening, walking, painting, cycling, driving, visiting can be such activities that promote thinking in a parallel way or give totally new direction, people use the term "thinking outside of the box".     

            My mum Eleanor who was a thoughtful, loving and a caring lady would say, "a change is as good as a rest". She would obediently follow my dad in virtually everything, very diligently and dutifully, but it didn't stop her thinking for herself.

            My mum and dad for half their working lives were shop keepers, "Open all hours". They rarely went way and if they did it was not for long. Mum and dad never retired, their little business was their life and they had little room or activity time for reflection.  However mum would always say "a change is as good as a rest".

            I find myself in a strange and unusual place.  I can't remember having anymore than about two weeks off at any one, sickness or holiday.  Even when I was unemployed I was walking the streets looking for work.  So one month's holiday followed by three months Sabbatical needs a little bit of reprogramming and new thinking on my part, having all this space and time that I have never had before could go to my head or just be frittered away. God would not be pleased about either of those.

            Time is a precious and rare commodity that is finite while we inhabit this remarkable planet. So my mum's words of wisdom come to mind, "a change is as good as a rest". I have guarded against people trying to fill it for me.  I want to shape it and I want to use it from my own resourcefulness.

            Often when we have space we want, and are inclined, to fill it, perhaps not thinking what we are filling it with.

            Most things are better with having a little bit of structure and purpose. For me I have known for a long time that my body needs refreshment, to be good, healthy and fit otherwise life can be limited. Health is one of the most important things we have and possess, mental, physical and spiritual, and often cannot be bought with money.

            I firmly believe we are very three dimensional. I base this upon the life of Jesus, his mental capacity, to think on his feet, his physical ability to endure hard and long days and the agony of the Cross and his spiritual energy from God in the form of the Holy Spirit.

            I also see this time as a season similar to that of Spring. The things I want to see and like about Spring are the daylight hours increasing in both length and brightness, the temperature rising and the warmth in the sun.

            Signs of new life in plants and the birds, more activity in nature with a coming vibrancy, I also look for colour to return well exemplified in Snowdrops and Blue Bells. I look forward to planting seeds and raising plants. I should feel more connected to the earth, closer to creation.

            At sometime in our history we were more connected to the seasons. Winter could be long and hard, little activity, but activity in a different way. Summer brings the bloom of creation and autumn the industrious harvesting.

            I believe that the way our world and society is structured and driven along some important aspects have been weaned out or lost completely and we as people are missing out on some important life giving aspects.

            One thing for me needs to go alongside all of these is a good Spring clean, both materially and spiritually. Jesus refers to this in the image of the Vine, pruning and clearing unhelpful stuff, restoring the image and fitness of the vine to produce better quality of fruit.       

            It is easy to accumulate but much more difficult to clear things out, wanting to keep things even though they have not been used at all.           

            World travellers have a saying "travel light, travel simple". A dose of rigour, discipline and perhaps ruthlessness will be needed in this different time. This will enable restoration, new life, life with colour and with vibrancy and then the words of Jesus will come true.

Jesus said “I have come to give you life and life in all its fullness!”

Every blessing in Jesus,

Rev John.

Rev John Marriott

                                                                                                 

tinabw

Minnie Louise Haskins is not a poet that many of us know.  She was a woman with a long and varied career  . During her life she worked in India and the East End, industrial welfare and academia.    She wrote books and poetry.  Her life was about service .

We see this early on.   In 1903, she worked for  the Springfield Hall Wesleyan Methodist mission and in 1907 she went to Madras with the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society to serve in the Zenana mission to women.

To help fund this mission, she wrote  a book of poetry entitled The Desert which included the poem  God knows.  This poem touched a chord with many, becoming a favorite of both many people, including King George VI  and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The poem includes these lines:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”. 

And he replied:

“Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.:

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.  And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

The statement of faith and hope and trust sustained her during her missionary years, two world wars, and a life in academia in days when few women lived such a life.

Minnie understood that at the core of our faith is an embracing of mystery, of the unknown.  She had no idea of what missionary life would look like at home or abroad, but on she went.  Nor could she have known how radically the world would change in her lifetime, but she still served and trusted.  She still put her hand in the hand of God, this mysterious, wondrous, surprising God, who creates, redeems and makes all things new,  this God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, in the mystery and wonder and surprise of manger cross and empty tomb.    This God who asks of us only, take my hand.  I am with you.  Embrace your liberation and see what wonders there are.  I will never leave you.  I am with you always.

We stand at the beginning of a new year.  We do not know what will come.  The world will change.  We will be asked to embrace the hand of God who changes everything, but who is changeless. Our Circuit will change, so too our churches.  The world as well.  Nothing stays the same. 

But what does stay the same, is this  extended and extending hand of God and the gracious invitation to take it and be set free.

“  And remember.  I am with you.  Always.”

These words of Christ in Matthew 28  come in the context  of the resurrection.  He tells them everything has changed now.  All things are new.  The possibilities are now endless.  Embrace your life  and live your faith.

As we  enter a new year, let us reflect on Christ’s words:  Remember.  Always.

And embrace the hand of God .

Blessings and Peace,

 Rev Tina Swire

romeo3

Dear Friends

We all know that Paul was speaking about the Cross when he wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 1: 20, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  

The truth is that they are equally true about the “foolish” birth of Jesus. Paul says: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

One cannot be blamed when thinking that God must be foolish to choose to be born into poverty within a country under aggressive foreign occupation. Jesus required liberation before he could start his liberating work.

A refugee child on the run is how Jesus’ life began – this is of course relevant as we hear from one of our Local Preachers, Pam Kirkland, who taught in a refugee camp during the Summer: “Please continue to pray for Farishta and all the other children and their families at Oinofyta Refugee Camp, and for the thousands of the refugees trapped…”.

Isn’t it foolish for God to choose to be born as a “nobody”? Why not come as someone powerful or at least popular? Why did God not come as someone who could “get the message out” far and wide? Why did the Divine not come as one who had access to important people with money and who could sway the real decision-makers?

What a foolish God indeed.

As it was at the start so it was with Jesus’ birth. God specialises in creating out of nothing – what a message of hope. All through scripture we see God doing wonders with so-called nobodies. Now this is affirming news when we feel like nobodies and it is also a reminder that the Divine more often than not comes to us from the unwanted margins of society. Those ignored and maligned, downtrodden and forgotten are who God uses to turn this world right-way-up. Christmas invites us to take our lead from the despised and marginalised.

So the call to us this Christmas is to see God in the peripheral places of society, to allow God to use us in our weakness, our vulnerability and our brokenness to bring hope and healing to the places where we are.

I end this letter with a Prayer, written by ~ David Blanchflower 1987.

Pray this with me this Christmas:

CHRIST THE HUMBLE CHILD AMONG US
Humble child of Bethlehem, whose parents found no room in the inn,
we pray for all who are homeless.

Humble child of Bethlehem, born in a stable,
we pray for all who live in poverty.

Humble child of Bethlehem, rejected stranger,
we pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.

Humble child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill,
we pray for all who live with danger, all who are persecuted.

Humble child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt,
we pray for all refugees throughout the world.

Humble child of Bethlehem, in you God was pleased to dwell,
help us, we pray, to see the divine image in people everywhere. Amen.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas

 

 romeosig

Rev Romeo Pedro

 

Phil2015

One of the things I quite often find that people struggle with is forgiveness.

When I responded to God’s call to ministry I was sent to ministers’ training college for two years and my family came with me.  We were blessed with a large family flat on campus and that was where we lived – even across the summer holidays.  However in the summer between the two years, the college decided to bring in a large number of French exchange students to stay in all the vacant rooms – far more students than was safe or manageable.  As a result all sorts of things happened that made life very difficult and unhappy for us across that summer. 

I became angry at the college authorities for all the hurt they had caused my family – rightly so I thought.  I wrote letters to the Principal and to the Pastoral Committee.  Some people, even a tutor or two, actually encouraged me in my “righteous anger” and my desire for justice, but as the weeks went by I found I was growing more angry and it was beginning to “eat me up”.

The following Easter we went to a Christian festival called Easter People.  One morning the message was about forgiving and I knew God was speaking to me, but my problem was that I just didn’t feel I could forgive.  I decided to talk with one of the ministry team afterwards who listened as I told him some of my story and why I didn’t feel that I could forgive.  Then he simply said, “Phil, you have to choose to forgive.  The feelings will follow.”  I didn’t like his answer much, but I sort of knew he was right and he helped me through wilfully choosing to forgive before God even though I didn’t feel like it. 

To be honest I didn’t feel much different afterwards or for the rest of the day, but the next morning I felt so relieved like a great weight had lifted from me emotionally.  It had been a struggle but I had chosen to forgive, let go giving it to God and the healing had begun.

As I talk with others I often find that they have not really thought through or understood how forgiveness works.

Forgiveness is NOT forgetting or trying to pretend it doesn’t matter.  People who want to forget all that was done to them will find they cannot do it.  Forgiveness is not something we wait to do when we feel we can, or when we finish feeling angry at someone.  If you wait to forget, or to “feel forgiving” you may well never get there.  Nor is it that we wait for the other person to ask for our forgiveness.  Don’t put off forgiving those who have hurt you, hoping the pain will one day go away. 

Forgiveness is choosing not to hold someone’s wrongs against him or her any more.  Once you choose to forgive someone, then Jesus can come and begin to heal you of your hurts.  The healing cannot begin until you first forgive.

“But you don’t know how much this person hurt me!” you say.  You’re probably right.  I don’t, but Jesus does, and He still tells us to forgive – it is so important that it is the only thing Jesus comments on after teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:14-15).

It is common for bitter people to bring up past issues with those who have hurt them.  They want them to feel bad.  But don’t you see?!  We must let go of the past and choose to reject any thought of revenge.  Until you let go of your anger and hatred, what’s actually happening is that you are the one still hurting.  We have to live with the consequences of what others have done anyway whether we like it or not, so the choice we have to make is whether we will do so in the bondage of bitterness or in the freedom of forgiveness.  You can stop the pain, but there is only one way to do it — forgive.

We have to trust - and we can - that God will deal with the person justly and fairly, something we simply cannot do ourselves (Rom 12:19-20).

This doesn’t mean we continue to turn a blind eye to the sins of others in the future.  God does not tolerate sin and neither should we.  We don’t have to allow ourselves to be continually abused by others.  We can take a stand against sin while continuing to exercise grace and forgiveness toward those who hurt us.  If you need help setting wise limits and boundaries to protect yourself from further abuse, talk to a trusted friend, counsellor, or minister.

Forgiving is vital to our emotional, spiritual and physical health. Forgive one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:32)

Yours in Christ,

Rev Phil Snelson
Emmanuel Local Ecumenical Partnership

alt

The question that comes up again and again in the course of my ministry is “If God is love, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” and while I can only scratch the surface in such a short letter I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help us in our conversations and discussion together.


In his little book ‘The Contemplative Minister’, Ian Cowley talks about the importance of perseverance and quotes Evagrius Ponticus (born in 364 and eventually ordained a priest but after a chequered career, lived out his life in the desert) who said


“Don’t refuse to be poor and tried by tribulations; they are the fuel that makes prayer easy”


And while I agree with the sentiments, I struggle with the implication that pain and suffering are present so that our spiritual life might be stronger!


Paul writing in Romans has often been misinterpreted to suggest the same thing:


“….we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-4)


As always with Bible passages there is the need to look at the context and with this one in particular recognise that Paul was writing from a place of extreme suffering and imprisonment for his beliefs. But again the passage has been misused to suggest quite glibly that pain produces character and indeed in the past there are those who have completely abused positions of trust and inflicted pain and suffering on themselves and others to that end.


We live a life of opposites – can there be goodness without badness, love without hatred, and joy without sadness?
The well-known passage from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 touches on this theme:


“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”


The writer seems to accept that this is the way it is and other parts of the Bible such as the Psalms and Lamentations also don’t attempt to fix the problem but just tell it like it is.
But still this does not answer the question of why pain and suffering at all – we know pain has its uses as a ‘need to make a doctor’s appointment warning mechanism’ but some conditions go beyond this and many people struggle with extreme levels of pain on a daily basis. If God made the world why could it not be created without pain?


Our modern approach is to seek relief from all pain and suffering but there are many who despite this have an approach to life which truly reflects a realism and sense of humour which helps them to cope.


I was privileged recently to conduct the funeral of our dear friend’s Mum. Betty’s character and faith had a huge influence on me and many other people but she was always one for whom faith was complicated and she had many questions but reflected that one day she would know the answers and some of what she believed and understood would be confirmed and other issues would surprise her. Latterly Betty suffered from dementia but still maintained a sense of humour and when her son in law called one day, Betty was trying to get up with her Zimmer frame and when asked where she was going, she replied “I have got to get ready for the space rocket; I am going to have a word with God”.


I firmly believe that it is not God’s intention that people should experience pain and suffering but somehow it does seem to be a part of the ‘life of opposites’. The issue is further complicated of course by the fact that so much pain and suffering is caused by people’s inhumanity or oppression or negligence.


I also firmly hold to the truth that through the incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus God seeks to release all people and all things from suffering, pain and brokenness.
So, as I said, I have barely scratched the surface but would invite you to continue the conversation with me in whatever way you wish: In writing, by phone, by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via the Circuit Facebook page: ‘Northampton Methodist Churches’.


God Bless
Deacon Richard Beckett

RevJohnMarriott2

"Jesus Christ the author and perfector of our faith". Hebrews 12.

At the Olympic Stadium in London in July just prior the staging of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil we witnessed something truly amazing at the staging of the 1st London Anniversary Games, a Diamond League meeting that we follow.                                                                            

In the ladies 100metre hurdles the world record time of 12.21 seconds by Yordanka Donkova held since 1988 for this event was broken after being held for 28 years. This was achieved by a young lady from America called Kenda Harrison, who had not qualified to go to Brazil to compete for her country in this year's Olympics.                                                           

Her time was 12.2 seconds and I can see how she achieved this with consistent timing and pacing going down the entire length of the course. Her fluidity of movement, balance and poise, coupled with truly amazing running power helped her achieve something which she will always be proud of and be remembered for.                                                                              

To not be selected for the Olympics because you did not meet the qualifying time against your fellow competitors does little for ones confidence or esteem, so this was all the more remarkable.                                     

Often athletes both Able and Para Olympic stake four years of meticulous planning and work to reach Olympic standard and perhaps an everlasting medal given to an extremely small percentage of the human race.                                                                                                                           

I was watching this event on the Friday evening because it was prior to Usain Bolt running in the 200m sprint, and our own Jess Ennis Hill was running against the pure hurdlers, prior to competing in the Heptathlon. These athletes are household names around the world. I believe Usain will be going for his sixth gold medal. Some athletes enjoy competing with a season’s best, or personal best, some athletes definitely desire to have a medal, normally gold.                                                                                                                                                                               

Coming from Loughborough the home of some great and successful athletes I know that bronze is something they are so disappointed in getting that they want to erase this from their memory.                                                      

All the talk up to the Olympics has been about the politics in sport, notably the systematic use of drugs to enhance human performance, in pursuit and desire of glory.                                                                                      

As most of you will know I am a great lover of cycling, and I shall follow the Olympic Cycling with a renewed closeness as I want our cyclists to medal their events, particularly Mark Cavendish.                                                          

Mark didn't win a medal in Bejing when the Olympics were held in 2008.  He has had to wait a long time for the opportunity as good as this to represent his country alongside the Knight of the Realm in Sir Bradley Wiggins, one of my new hero's.                                                                               

Chris Froome three times winner of the Tour de France will be competing in the Road Race event. I do know that all of those athletes have a clean passport, a strong basis and datum from which to perform and give their very best.                                                                                    

Cycling as a sport at some stage was so warped, polluted and tainted by the systematic use of drugs you didn't know what was going to happen. It was a lottery and rendered the racing meaningless to all and had no credibility, was the winner the true winner?                                                                 

The American Lance Armstrong was one of my hero's. A man who won the great Tour de France twice after beating cancer, a tremendous achievement and inspiration to so many people.                                                            

Lots of people I know face cancer, and have to fight it. I hope no more people, particularly my loved ones and those I know, will never ever have to face it. Lance Armstrong wasn't all bad and he supported cancer sufferers through his Foundation. Lance also wrote a book with the ironic title "It's not about the bike". How right he was.                                                  

The Olympic Games more than any other sporting event focus on some major qualities and characteristics of life condensed into a relatively small moment of time, these are moments when dreams can be made real or shattered into the course of world history.                                                                       

I did notice when Kenda Harrison was interviewed after the after the winning of the 100 metre hurdles in record time she said "I give God the glory for this". This to me spoke volumes about having a life of faith.                     

She was a clean athlete giving her very best in the moments she was given, an inspiration to many people and a Christian in sport.                

Jesus always gave the best in the moments he was given, he was clean and came to make us clean, to compete in a true race for God.               

Look at what Jesus achieved for us all in the moments of the three years that he was given? Revealing God to us and making our lives full, wholesome and clean in every way, shape and form, fit for purpose to perform to the best in glorifying God.  Jesus is both our great coach and our competing athlete.

 

 Every blessing in Jesus Rev John Marriott

tinabw

I am off on holidays soon.  And so I am reflecting on family.

I am going to Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is the land of icebergs and whales, adventurers and song. And it is only about four or five hours away, depending on the jet stream.

It is also the place of my birth.  My family, or families as  family trees go, all came from the UK and settled in Newfoundland many generations ago.  You can still pick out Elizabethan riffs in some of the folk music.   Prates hid out.  fortunes were made from the cod fishery. We have had wars fought on our soil for sovereignty, mostly because of the cod fishery..  We have answered the monarch’s call and our children sleep in the Somme and other places.  During the cold war when planes needed to stop and refuel at Gander, it became known as the hole in the iron curtain and a site of defection  into a new world.

It is one of my families, the family of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Then there is my immediate family.  My Dad, sisters, brothers, brother in law and nieces.  And my Dad is one of ten, so I am longing to be with all of them;  aunties and uncles and cousins, this loud ,loving, messy , glorious thing called family.

And I am also aware that I do not have so much a family tree as a family rainforest, and all the branches lead right back to here, my UK family.

And I also have another family.

Jesus once said that “Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister and mother.”  This teaching was so important to the early church that it is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Family, for Jesus, was both a earthly reality and a spiritual one as well.  As family, in all our history, stories, in our joys and struggles, messiness and love, we point to something about the way of God.    There is something here about the faith not being lived in a vacuum, but in the endless possibilities and hope of relationships, with God, between ourselves, within ourselves and with creation itself.

The will of God is to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God, as the prophet Micah tells us.  It is about trusting in and sharing the love, hope peace and joy of God.  It is about knowing that we are not alone.  God s with us, creating, redeeming and sustaining in all things.

All these families I am part of are linked by faith.  Lawrence Coughlan came to Newfoundland to be with people who were doing the dangerous job of fishing the north atlantic, but not sharing in its full economic benefits.  They may be taking the risks, but someone else saw the benefits.

Coughlan came and lived and shared and lived the will of God.  It so inspired  a people that they built him a church from trees they cut down themselves from the forest.  It was not an insubstantial church.

From such acts of faith and faithfulness a family of faith grew and I have returned to my family here.

May we all live as the family of God, living justice, mercy love, peace, joy and love in all the families we live in.  For we are not alone.  God is with us.  Thanks be to Jesus.

 Rev Tina Swire

Phil2015

Dear Friends,

At the end of June Revd Canon Margaret Johnson retired from ministry.  She started here at the beginning of her ministry, as a curate, and served twenty one years in ministry at Emmanuel Group of Churches. She is a "larger-than-life" character and it is hard to say who will miss who more!  But it is time for her to move on and it is also therefore time for the Emmanuel churches to move on too.

Each of our congregations is following a process called a "Growth Action Plan".  We have prayed in preparation asking God to help us be open to His guiding and leading.  We gave a Sunday morning over to working together in small groups.  We reviewed congregational life and then, based on this, looked to the future and our hopes & dreams for where we might be in five years’ time.  As the final part of the morning we set five specific actions that would move us forward over the next year and different groups of people committed to take on each action to progress and report back. It is really important that as many people are directly involved and own the vision as possible.

Most recently I shared in Rectory Farm's vision time for their Growth Action Plan.  There were three working groups, one of which was mostly children, primary school age and younger, with their leaders.  We found much to celebrate in our church: worship & God's love, our sense of community, family and genuine welcome, care and support and that we liked to have fun together.  We were concerned about being relatively small in number as a church and particularly our lack of teenagers in the congregation on Sunday mornings. 

The vision time looking forward rather took me by surprise - should have had more faith!  All three groups independently came up with very similar ideas including the children, who were particularly impressive. In five years’ time we hope to have grown in number and to see people growing deeper in their faith and love for God and each other; to be meeting in our own building (we meet in a school); to have a thriving children and youth work.

For the next year we plan to:

  • Pray for our vision – already featured in several services, and a bookmark for individuals to help them in praying for the vision
  • A specific working party to explore possibilities for a building
  • Follow a course to develop faith – “Fruitfulness on the Frontline”; men’s group already started, others to follow soon.
  • To take a lead in an event in the wider community – e.g. act of service like a tidy up of the walk-ways followed by a BBQ
  • To organize a “Fun Event”

All this has encouraged us that God is with us and has given us a renewed sense of purpose and direction that we share as a church.  I wonder: Does your church have a Growth Action Plan for the coming year?  Do you know what it is?  How are you involved?

May God help you to know and love Him more fully, and to encourage others to do the same!

Rev Phil Snelson
Emmanuel Local Ecumenical Partnership

romeo3

A group of African porters were once rushing through the jungle at a ridiculous pace set by the Europeans who had hired them. Eventually they got to a clearing and sat down. The Europeans tried to get them moving again but the head porter said, “No, we’re not moving. We’ve come so far and so fast that we now have to wait for our souls to catch up with us.”

I have recently been pondering on Mark 1: 29-39. We read that Jesus goes home with Simon where Simon's mother-in-law is very ill and Jesus heals her. It's a touching story of remarkable particularity in Jesus' ministry. It reveals his care for and commitment to the individuals who had chosen to follow him.

There is no question, when we read this story, that God is a personal God, available to each of us individually.

But, then, immediately after this story, we discover the whole community gathering at the door of the house - bringing their needs to Jesus. And, again, with this nameless crowd, Jesus is present, available, and compassionate.

Finally, after taking some time out to recharge, the disciples tell Jesus that people are looking for him, but he tells them that they must continue on to other villages in the region to minister to others.

It's like the Gospel writer wants to show us how Jesus' ministry moved so comfortably from the individual to the community. It is encouraging to see how Jesus moved so easily from serving a friend's mother-in-law to serving a whole town. Perhaps we can't all do this. Some of us are, perhaps, more able to serve one-on-one (that’s me!), bringing God's grace to individuals one at a time. In this way, we represent one aspect of Christ's grace to others. Others of us may be more effective at serving groups, but find one-on-one ministry difficult. In this way, we represent the other aspect of Christ's grace.

Both of these are valid and valuable ways to serve. When we can partner with each other, so that both individuals and groups are well served, then we are able to more fully embody Christ's message and grace. This is one of the reasons why the Church remains an important organisation.

However we may serve, though, it's important to take note of the fact that even Jesus needed to take time out by himself to pray, to rest, and to recharge his energies. When we fail to manage our health like this, our ministry will inevitably begin to lose its effectiveness. We do well, though, when we follow Christ's example, and make time for the things that restore us. Then, when we have recharged, we can return to service with enthusiasm and strength.

Remember the image of our porters at the beginning of this letter? The pace of daily life is accelerating and the demands are unremitting. It’s as if we got on the slow train that stops at every little village, but instead of chugging its way gently through the countryside it gets faster and faster, accelerating steadily and relentlessly, streaming through every station, until the carriage is swaying alarmingly and we’re hanging on to our seats and to our luggage – and the speed still increases! When is it going to come off the tracks?

In a culture where speed and the ability to ‘pack in more” is becoming self-defeating, many people are crying out for space. They long to slow down.

We need to build some slowing – down time into our lives. Then we can listen to the quiet whispers of God. We need to create times for stopping and resting.

Slowing down is a vital part of the spiritual journey. Then we can stop panicking about when we’re going to come off the rails, and start noticing the fascinating countryside we’re traveling through.

How best do you serve God and others - in groups, or one-on-one? How can you do more of this today? How can you value and respect the way others serve God? And as you serve, how can you make time to rest and recharge? 

Grace

 

 romeosig

Rev Romeo Pedro

 

RevJohnMarriott2

They say that writing, or writing a sermon as a preacher is ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration. Well it certainly feels like one of those occasions.

I recall a Beatles song Lady Madonna with the line, "Father McKenzie writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear". That line must have come from the Beatles themselves, Liverpool Lads!   

Christianity and The Church feature prominently in their local area, and when they worked with Sir George Martin who recently "passed to glory" it was sung across the world time and again and became part of our experience in "Popular Music".

Have you noticed something that has been going on this year with the number of music and entertainment personalities "passing to glory" heaven must have some new entertainment and shows going on!

"Lemmy" an extraordinary electric guitarist, song writer and vocalist, Lemmy was always loud, extra loud, I can see heaven emptying now. Shortly after Lemmy came David Bowie. Songwriter, musician, vocalist, film star amongst other things.

David Bowie was an acquired taste in contemporary music.  What he did I believe over five decades or more was to connect with people of different generations and cultures in each of those decades.

When he "passed to glory" there was almost a Bowie wave of mourning and grief that struck the nation and spread across the world.  It showed the way Bowie was enjoyed by so many people, he gave such a lot.   I have never been a fan of The Eurovision Song Contest except when Abba was giving us something lasting with the song called "Waterloo". Where my enthusiasm lacked in Euro Vision it more than made up with Children in Need, I even had my own Pudsey Bear set up when I used to do School Assemblies.

If you can remember Children in Need then you can remember Sir Terry Wogan. I can remember when he signed off from Radio 2 Breakfast Show, now hosted by Chris Evans.   It stopped the nation!      

He wrote out his script in full because he knew that it was to be an emotional experience and he would have to hold things together.           What made Sir Terry Wogan? We did! His own personality and character and his audience or world congregation.

Now for my next trick. A few days ago Paul Daniels the Magician of Magicians said a fond farewell and goodbye for now. You couldn't fail not to be impressed by his magic skills and talents, Magicians held him in very high esteem.  He cut his teeth and developed his act in the northern places where people had to be enticed out and it was hard to make them laugh.

What is magic? It is the art of deception in a nice way and were we entertained? Yes we were, so thank you Paul Daniels.

I mentioned earlier, Sir George Martin known as the Fifth Beatle, with his musical gifting of musical arrangement, song, and the production of music being his forte.  Even my father who is a bit of a Philistine when it came to music (and they are his words not mine) said to me one day. Do you know John "The Beatles are as popular as Jesus Christ". Talk about my father mixing the secular with the divine, which incidentally is very woven together is quite a profound thing to say. The Beatles lived to alter the course of developing popular music.           

Back then, I did agree with my father's view, today as I have come to faith I would dispute it quite strongly, but that doesn't really matter. Legacy has become a popular word particularly after large sporting events.

Jesus didn't solely come to be popular, in fact he made a lot of enemies, and he did not come to entertain either although I am sure he could hold people's attention bound by what he did and what he said. The way he lived, the way he died, the way he rose again, his character, personality and the divine nature of God shone through him.

I have undoubtedly missed people who have also "passed to glory" including the voice of Lady Penelope of Thunderbirds fame, Gerry Andersons wife (by the way I am sure Lady Penelope was a Methodist).   All these people leave a great gift to us in life, life in all its fullness, the difference is that Jesus is an eternal gift for which we should all be truly thankful to God.

 

 Every blessing in Jesus Rev John Marriott

alt

As some of you will know, there were ten children and young people who joined with about 600 others at the 3GENERATE Methodist Youth Assembly last November and I want to use this opportunity to share with you something of what came out of the weekend.

The weekend was divided into three age ‘streams’ and each group has produced a Manifesto which sets out the things which children and young people aged between 8 and 23 believe the Methodist Church should be focussing on. The following is a snapshot from each of the age streams:

8-11’s

  • THE ENVIRONMENT: Climate Change, littering, pollution, trees being cut down – what can we do in church and our communities to make a difference?
  • WHERE IS GOD?: – we want opportunities to talk about this and to ask questions.
  • OUR CONCERNS: – about violence in our world, terrorism and wars, and our fears about a third world war. We want opportunities to talk about this on Sundays and in our groups.
  • OUR CHURCH: We are a part of our church life and community and are keen to play a full part in all its activity.

We would like to know and understand more about Methodism and why it is called Methodism.

We have lots of questions about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and being a Christian and we would like time in worship and in our groups to explore them.

Participating in the whole of church is important to us and we want worship that is interesting and relevant to all people in the church.

  • OUR COMMUNITY: We care about the communities we live in and want to be a part of them and contribute to making them caring and good places to live in. We want to talk about, learn, and make a difference in the areas of bullying, coping with change and helping others.

11-18’s

  • Discussions about same sex marriage. In particular reflecting on biblical perspectives and exploring the Church’s understanding.
  • Discussions around the issue of war and conflict. In particular the use of prayer as a response.
  • Accessibility for those with disabilities. Change the focus from ‘disability’ to ‘different abilities’ and improve access in worship.
  • Refugee and Asylum seekers. In particular showing them welcome, love and protection.

18-23’s

  • Exploring the question ‘How do we love thy enemies?’ On a local church level in pro-active, theological, contextual and, most importantly, practical ways.
  • Challenging negative representations of marginalised groups. Actively speaking out on behalf of groups, such as migrants or young people.
  • Taking a lead on practical responses to climate change. Revisiting Hope in God’s Future, updating policies and enabling local churches to learn about taking action at a local and global level.
  • Using the language of love to challenge the poverty gap. So that no one is shamed or excluded. A person’s worth is not assigned by their wealth.

I was greatly heartened when I read these to see that the young people in our churches are actually asking the same questions and deeply affected by the same issues many others are also raising. I am also challenged as to how best we should respond through leading, preaching and worship.

If you can get online you can read the full Manifestos at www.methodist.org.uk/3Generate or contact me for details and I will gladly send them to you.

With thanks to Ellen Rufus for the work of co-ordinating the young people who went from our Circuit and a gentle reminder that plans are in hand to take even more children and young people from the Circuit to 3GENERATE in November 2016.

Every Blessing, Deacon Richard Beckett

romeo3

My dear brothers and sisters, I have lately been reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son or as other more accurately call it the parable of the Waiting Father. The parable is one of death and resurrection – as the Father later confirmed: “This son of mine was dead but is now alive again.”

Not a single character in the story have names. Their identity comes through their relationships: father, son and brother. To discontinue the relationship is to lose your identity. To lose your identity is to die. No one is an island. As an African, I was raised with the philosophy that “I am who I am because we are”.

Death in the scriptures is not reduced to whether we have a pulse or not. The younger son was still breathing but he was dead because he was no longer living in relationship with his father and brother. He was tempted by the illusion of independence and the lie that you can live a separate selfish life and still live.

Both sons in different ways separate themselves from the Father – or as Miroslav Volf says they try and “un-son” themselves. The younger one travels to a distant land while the older son remains outside in anger. Both cause the Father grief. Grieving - for he has lost a loved one.

When the child returns to relationship he is resurrected. He is born again. We are born again when we live life lovingly (in relationship) again.

The other day I read an extract from a beautiful book called: “Father Joe”. In it the author records a time when he came to Father Joe for confession after many, many years of being in a “distant land” and with “the pigs”. After he shared some of the gory details about his life, Father Joe says to him: These are great imperfections, dear. But they’re not what you really want to say, are they?” He was right… there was something, but I couldn’t quite reach down far enough to find it. “Say what’s in your heart now, dear.”

“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe. Utterly incapable of feeling it, even thinking it. Even wanting it. No, that’s not true. I want to love, terribly. But it won’t come … I hate love. It feels the way a sin used to. Like when you got a present as a kid and for no reason at all you’d smash it into little pieces…”

“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved. You are loved, dear, with a limitless… fathomless… all-embracing love.”

This month we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus: that Jesus is alive and that Jesus is Lord. And we also celebrate that by allowing him to love us we too are resurrected to new life: to a loved life AND to a life lived lovingly.

In the little book written in the 1970s by Martin Bell, entitled The Way of the Wolf, a little boy is able to hear the wind talking. The wind tells the boy: Anything that hurts anyone hurts you. Anything that helps anyone helps you. It is not possible to gain from another’s loss or to lose from another’s gain. Your life is immensely important. Paul would say they were spoken by the Spirit — God’s wind of love — reminding us who we really are — we are one in all our rich diversity.

We need each other … a gift of course that we embraced in the model of “Team Ministry” in the Northampton Circuit.

My prayer is that we shall embrace this gift of togetherness, that we shall live our mission in our togetherness – that we shall support one another in the beautiful work done through Messy Church; our involvement at Street Church; the hospitality shown through the Prayer Breakfasts and Meals; the outreach done through the Mums and Tots Groups and Film matinees;  the wonderful involvement with our young people through the work of the Brigades; the number of ecumenical and inter-faith partnerships; the many prayer initiatives and Bible Studies; and the various international outreaches that our members are involved with.

I challenge you to find out about one of the aforementioned and to make a commitment to support these. I want to encourage you to reach out to a church in the circuit that you would not normally be involved with – to show interest in and care for your brothers and sisters in the rest of the circuit this month.

Friends, we exist in togetherness or not at all.

Grace

 

 romeosig

Rev Romeo Pedro

 

tinabw

Recently on a trip to Wales, John said “Let’s take our bikes.” So we did. Now keep in mind, I haven’t ridden a bike in more years than we need to mention.  The return to the lauded mode of transport was a little shaky at first, but as the wise Rev. Marriott did point out to me, “You never forget how to ride a bike.”  And I hadn’t.  We rode along the promenade between Prestatyn and Llandudno.  Along the route, you come to Rhos-on-sea.  We stopped for a breather on a bench we found.

The benches were in front of a stone building.  Being naturally curious we went inside.  It is a chapel, big enough for a handful of people to sit in, at a push.  Every Thursday, the local Anglican church holds a Holy Communion service there.  The rest of the week it is open for prayer and quiet.

The chapel was dark, the only light came from a couple of small windows and a candle.  There were three or four heavy wooden chairs and a table which served as an altar.  There was a board for prayer requests.  Underneath the table was wooden board.  That was it.  We sat in silent prayer.  The sea waves broke, the gulls called to one another.  Life flowed on about us, but here, in this quiet place, we felt a real presence of God.  It was a gift and a blessing.

The chapel was built by St. Trillio who came to Wales to bring Christianity to the people there.  He came ashore her and found fresh water provided by a spring which can still be found under the wooden board, under the altar. Here he set up his mission, next to the sea, which would have fed him and inspired him.  God even gave him enough land to grow whatever food he needed.

For at least 1500 years prayer has been raised in this place.  Here, people have reflected on the nature of God.  Here, people have lived mission and service.  And this place still inspires and offers hope in a fast and ever demanding world.  And we almost missed it.

God calls us every day to find that quiet space to recall and remember and find our courage and strength from the good news that we are not alone

Jesus tells us this in Matthew:  “All authority has been given me both in heaven an on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name of Abba God, and of the Holy Begotten, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know I am with you always, even until the end of the world”

That truth inspired Trillio to leave Brittany, in an age before satellites and coast guards, to make a journey to a brave new world.  It inspired him to minister with only his with only his barest needs met.  It inspired a people to come to faith and for them to pray for 1500 years and to continue for years to come.

Another translation says, “Behold I am with you always to the end of the age.” Our faith journey is both physical and spiritual.  In all things, God is with us, until the end.  Since God is eternal, that seems like a very huge and serious commitment on God’s part.

To be a people of covenant means we trust and hope and believe.  God also trusts in us, believes in us, and hopes in us.  God believed St. Trillio could, and would, go and pray and live the good news.  God believes that we in Northampton can and will be about true and honest and faithful witness, otherwise none of us would be here.  God is not a God of coincidences after all. 

Let us always seek to live the words we say.   Let us trust in God’s grace to do so, for we are not alone.  God is with us.  Thanks be to Jesus.

 Rev Tina Swire

RevJohnMarriott2

Jesus Christ used everyday things that we around him to reveal God to us.

There can be very few of us who don't connect with the weather forecast or experience the weather for ourselves in any one given day.  It influences our mood, our attitude to life, what we want to do and where we want to go in any one day or period of time.  Whatever needs to be achieved the weather is a key element.                                                                                                                             

Living as we do on an island, and far north from the equator it seems the weather has a greater degree of change in influencing our lives and the way we live. Some of us are so involved in the weather that we observe the signs of nature around us and draw our own weather conclusions and forecasts, and this will also change with the seasons that come and go.                           

When I was working late one night after having come back from a small but sincere prayer meeting down at Towcester Road Methodist Church I tuned into the BBC late night 5 day forecast.   Nothing unusual in that you may say.  Some of the forecast was given over to what drives and influences our weather on this island. The Forecaster talked about and demonstrated the influence of the Jet Stream;  combinations of weather and barometric pressures that come vast distances across oceans that effect not only our island but whole continents and the shape of the world.                                                  

The Jet Stream for me showed an enormous influence of dynamic power that shapes each and every person's life.   It is that big and very influential, that ‘awesome’ and ‘mega’ are two descriptive words that come to mind.                                                                                                                                               

Having worked in the Civil Aviation Industry making aero engines for jet liners which most of you have used, the weather and climate for travel influenced a lot of what we did and the way we did it, including the Jet Stream.                    

Thinking back earlier to our prayer meeting together  it was a meeting of being honest and open to God, going to the sovereign throne of grace in God our Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the presence of God.  We prayed about people in our Church family, family, friends and neighbours, the community in which we are placed, the work of the gospel, the manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the revelation through the power of the Holy Spirit, other Church communities and outreaching. We prayed for our nation and nations near and far, situations of immense scale and gravity, and one of the topics was the migration of people across the face of the earth, like we have never seen before.  To say that we were overwhelmed was an understatement - a human Tsunami.                                                                         

What was happening to us was that we were praying in God's Jet Stream, whether we said words, sat silently watching and praying, or silently offering our prayers to God we could not help being affected by the Jet Stream of God, the flowing of the Holy Spirit.                                          

I am asking you in this New Year to pray in God's Jet Stream.  To pray is not only a great witness to who we pray to but a sign of hope.  Other religions and faiths all have the element of prayer, so Christians do not have exclusivity to the power of prayer in any way.  Speaking as a Christian Minister, prayer is a key element and characteristic of Christians and their Faith. To pray personally, collectively and corporately is both vital, essential and necessary and it is great spiritual exercise. Weather gets its vitality from exercise;   prayer  becomes effective by doing it.                                                

To continually pray without ceasing, with courage, confidence and conviction for a divine solution for the refugee crisis is paramount, a massive undertaking, it might take decades to solve, for we pray to a God who makes things possible out of what we may view to be the impossible.  The fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism, the walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela and the bonds of Apartheid are just a few examples where prayer has changed the face of the world and people's lives.                                                 

God's Jet Stream and the power of the Holy Spirit in and through the most high name of Jesus Christ Lord of All is where I am challenging you to place yourselves to be influenced and shaped by God as you live your life of faith in a faithful God.

Every blessing to you all in Jesus Name!

Rev John Marriott

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“I was here first!”

How often I can remember our children saying this as they competed for the best seat in front of the television and sometimes the front seat of the car (when Mum was not traveling too of course). And as they got older and wiser, the eldest of the siblings would make the same claim justifying it by the fact that she was born first!

I remember attending a demonstration session of ‘Godly Play’. A small group of mainly adults, were introduced to the story of the ‘Holy Family’ during which we were told the familiar story of the birth of Jesus. The story teller does this by using simple wooden figures which are placed carefully on a large circle of fabric on the floor as the story is told and then offers the listeners a time in which to ‘wonder’ and talk about what they have seen and heard. The wooden figures represented the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men and animals.

Often there are new insights as a result of the story being told in this way. What was unusual for me was that the story teller placed the wooden figure of the Christ child in the manger in the circle of fabric at the beginning. For a brief but important moment I saw the child in the manger alone, with his arms outstretched to the world which was represented by the circle of fabric.  Often when we tell the story of Christmas, we give first priority to the more ‘attractive’ characters and features – the angels, the wise men and the shepherds. It is sad to say but I even coordinated a nativity play in the past at which we had to scratch around at the very last minute to find a doll suitable for the part of the baby Jesus because no one had remembered to bring one!

In the Bible, the start of John’s Gospel is a challenging one to understand but it does remind us that “In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John chapter 1 verses 1 & 2) and if we think of ‘the Word’ as being Jesus, then we cannot help but get the priorities right this Christmas as we seek to put Jesus first.          But as someone pointed out to me once, ‘putting Jesus first’ doesn’t mean putting him first ahead of family or ahead of a career or ahead of a hobby, it means putting Jesus first in family and in career and in your hobby.

So whether you are reading this at the beginning of the advent season as we begin to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth again or nearer to Christmas day itself remember that Jesus was here first.

Deacon Richard Beckett

Phil2015

To the Saints in Northampton Circuit,

Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ and from the believers at Emmanuel…  Don’t worry I’m not really going to attempt to write an epistle but sometimes Paul’s letters were about sharing what was going on in the churches and that is really what I wanted to do, particularly about Emmanuel, our Coffee Shop and our Autumn course about “Reconciliation”.

Some of you will know about our Coffee Shop, open at the Weston Favell Shopping Centre from 9:00-2:00 Mon – Fri.  Even if you do there have been some changes in recent months and it is well worth a visit.  Part of our vision is to provide “a home for the community” and we seek to make everyone welcome.  We do have a core group of regulars, once a week sometimes more, and the coffee shop also is a place of hospitality for those who come to the Food Bank for help.  Food Bank is mostly open Wednesday 11:00 – 1:00 but people bring donations any day and if someone turns up at another time in serious need then we can’t really turn them away can we?!

We also include those with learning difficulties as part of our volunteer team, giving them a role and a sense of being valued and achieving.  These days we do more cakes and less hot dinners (Tuesdays only) but there is still plenty to choose from for lunch (hot or cold).  Along the way the ministers, and one or two others also try to be available to listen, share and pray if people want to, and it is amazing, challenging and occasionally heart-breaking what people share, and how God works over a mug of tea and a piece of cake or even in a conversation over the counter!

If you’d like to be involved we are always keeping an eye out for additional volunteers to help behind the counter, with a bit of cooking (we help people gain their level 2 qualification in hygiene) or as a listener or maybe even behind the scenes as a trustee.  Give me a call!

This autumn as a church across all three of our congregations, we’re looking at the topic of “Reconciliation” as a theme in services, house groups and every other Tuesday evening with a special session for teaching and sharing in group conversation.  Last time we looked at “condemnation” and how easy it is to slip into condemning others.  In John 8, when they brought the woman to Jesus he said “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  It’s too easy to condemn others and forget our own mistakes and failings.  How often, when we really look closely, is the under-tone of a pointed comment effectively saying “You’re wrong, I’m right!” done in such a way as to put the other person down (and maybe feel a bit better about ourselves)?  So easily we criticise or seek to justify ourselves, make negative comments, blame or complain about people behind their backs, albeit shared in confidence with a friend.  I have to be honest, I’ve done it too. 

But Paul tells us in one of his letters, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” – Rom 8:1.  Christ has freed us from condemnation and we are called no longer to condemn others but to be reconcilers, bringers of grace and mercy, ambassadors bringing the joy of the gospel message that God reconciled us to himself [and each other] through Jesus death on the cross and has actually entrusted to us this message of reconciliation – 1 Cor 5:20.

There’s loads more to tell you about, but no room this month! (not a very epistle like ending – maybe more John?! J)

God’s blessings to you,

Rev Phil Snelson
Emmanuel Local Ecumenical Partnership

tinabw

Our walls reveal a lot about ourselves.  The wall in my office, just in front of my desk has a number of things on it.  One is a piece of paper with important phone numbers on it. That witnesses to my practical side and in life we all need to be practical.  Another, is a list of dog rules for humans, for two reasons. One, I am amused by such things and  two, I have a dog and it is a fair description  of my life with Sandy. Another is  a tapestry given to me by a wonderful sister in the faith, because I believe that we are all united in Christ, no matter where, or when..  There is the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland regiment, because we should honour our past.  There’s a picture of John and I on our wedding day, because love is the most wondrous gift and miracle there is.  The hymn,  Who would true valour see,  is there too.  This one I wrote with all female pronouns on a day I needed encouragement and a reminder of whose I am and why I am.  Sometimes in our faith journey, we all do and we are called to encourage, support and build each other up, as Christ does with us.

In the middle, is the   a cross.  There is a painting of the world on it, of all the peoples of the earth, holding hands  and the Holy Spirit, the dove of peace is in their midst.

The cross is what holds all of this together.  It is a very simple design, when you think about it, but it says so much.  It is said that the vertical line talks about our connection with God and that the horizontal one is our connection with creation and one another and that where the two lines meet, there you find Christ and the peace of Christ and the hope of Christ and the life only possible in Christ.

God, in Christ, is in the midst of all our relationships in life.  In the daily  getting on with getting on, Christ is there.  In our relationships with creation and  those we share it with, Christ is there.  Just as God has been active in the past, God is today and will be tomorrow, for God, who is love, never ends.  In the challenges of life, God in Christ, is there.  In its joys, God, in Christ, is there. 

Matthew 18:20 says, “ for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” them.”

We often hear this verse to talk about how many people you need to have a  worship service.  And it does speak to that.  We do not worship in a vacuum.  Worship is a relationship, with God an with one another.  It is like a conversation or a dance where we bring our prayers and concerns and listen for God’s voice and feel Christ’s presence in the midst.

 The verse then talks about all our relationships in life, for in  all of them, we are called to be aware of God’s presence in our midst, making them holy.  To truly live this way, how could we be about anything other than the work of Christ, who came to reconcile and make all things news in manger cross and empty tomb.

This is true justice and righteousness and reconciliation and creation restored.  God is in our midst and we are not alone.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 Rev Tina Swire

romeo3

Someone asked some time ago: “So what is this church stuff all about…?”

He continued to assert: “Just because we call ourselves ‘church’ does not mean we are church, it just means that is what we call ourselves. After all, by calling myself an astronaut doesn’t make me an astronaut. And by being an astronaut in name only is a real turn off to others considering being an astronaut themselves – after all, who wants to join a bunch of astronauts who never go up into space?”

It made me think of these words of Pope Francis, in his address from St Peter’s Square on 18 May 2013: “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives.”

We are only ‘church’ to the extent that as a community we incarnate the life and teachings of Jesus in the world in which we live. So what does it mean to incarnate Jesus in our living?

We incarnate Jesus by hungering for what he hungers for – and he hungers for no one to be hungry. We incarnate Jesus by bravely loving those who he loves – and he especially loves those who others think should not be loved. We incarnate Jesus by forgiving those who he forgives – ourselves and others, when we least deserve it. We incarnate Jesus by trusting in what he trusts in: that truthfulness is liberating; that gentleness is real power; that generous giving is actually abundant receiving; that we have come from love and to love we will return, and therefore we need not fear to love here and now.

The world’s third largest international sports event, the Rugby World Cup comes to the UK during September/October 2015. Involved are 20 national squads - including all the home nations, 48 games and 50 training centres, 400,000 visitors from over 100 nations. What does it mean for us to incarnate Jesus in the context of the Rugby World Cup and beyond?

Friends, we incarnate Jesus by living out this hymn by Marty Haugen called: All are Welcome…

Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place. (Marty Haugen©)

Robert Schnase in his book 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations refers to this as Radical hospitality: “people offering the absolute utmost of themselves, their creativity, their abilities, and their energy to offer the gracious invitation and reception of Christ to others”.

Jesus said his followers were to be like lights on a hilltop - good news for travellers in the dark, offering direction and the promise of a welcome – and that the things they do to make this happen should cause others to praise God. The World Cup 2015 gives us the opportunity to make that a reality in our communities. It is another great occasion to make Christ’s love visible - to incarnate Jesus.

Robert Schnase makes the point that: “Churches practicing Radical Hospitality offer a surprising and unexpected quality of depth and authenticity in their caring for the stranger. Newcomers intuitively sense that.”

My prayer is that we will make every effort and plan during this time (and after this) to invite people into our chapels. I appeal to each of you that we will incarnate Christ, by welcoming the strangers into the community of love – Christ’s Church!

Grace

 romeosig

(Thank you for embracing a stranger like me.)

Rev Romeo Pedro

RevJohnMarriott2

Just a thought on giving.

The Town of Northampton and the County of Northamptonshire is steeped in the traditions of Rugby Union. It cannot have escaped your notice that the Rugby World Cup is almost upon us, less than one hundred days, by the time you read this it will be under fifty.

The small but beautifully formed William Webb Ellis trophy is about to be played for once again, this time in the Northern Hemisphere in our own back yard. It is great and we will welcome teams and their supporters from all over the world.

I first learnt about the William Webb Ellis Cup in a quiz. Name the Rugby World Cup? Sorry, I hadn't a clue. I could honestly say it was a point of learning so it served a good purpose.

I would say that is often how things start and develop. Rugby at it's most basic level is about picking the ball up and running down the other end of the pitch and putting it down. Simple isn't it?

By its simplicity it helps other people and a wider sphere of people engage with a great game. I was reminded of this in trying to explain cricket to a person who had no contact or understanding at all of cricket. It was a hard task and I struggled and didn't make a very good job of it.

Rugby brings people together, sport having a purpose, not only winning in the right spirit but sharing in something which brings people together where a deeper unexplainable enrichment takes place within the human race. There is only one human race and therefore common ground of experience.

All of the nations and teams coming here have their own objectives and fulfilment, but they are also bringing their own unique character and culture together at the tournament. Tournament rugby has its own dynamics and characteristics that need to be exercised at a different level to normal in and out Aviva Premiership rugby for example. We as hosts will also have expectations, not only in the welcome, fellowship and sharing with so many other people but in our words and deeds and organisation that goes into making a memorable event.

Of course if your team wins or achieves beyond its own expectations then it will be memorable because it is part of wider life journey achieved through a sporting environment.

If your team wins the cup then often we will remember it even more in the wider context of the whole of life. When, for example, England beat Australia to win the cup in 2003 the whole nation erupted. I could feel it in my bones, a memorable morning for those left here in the United Kingdom and particularly in England. So what do I really want to say to you all in this letter? All this is possible because of the act of giving something away. Giving the game of rugby to the world has created something, and continually develops something which is of lasting value to all.

By giving the game away it gave something that had lasting value, and enduring value to the world in which we all live. Physique, power, athleticism, intellect, pride, passion, joy, love, tactics, strength, courage, goals, targets and achievements. The list goes on.

This is all because the game has been given away to the world. Would it be as it is today if it had been kept by a few people? No, it is better to be given. Scripturally and spiritually it is better to give than receive, for in giving it is that a blessing is received, not that one is expected back.

God works and practices in the "giving way" from day one when God decided to start and sustain all of creation in a new way, and he gave something that runs through creation; that is his love, the love of giving.

Jesus Christ did a lot of giving. The Holy Spirit did a lot of giving. Are we glad? Yes we are! All of this giving says that we have received the great and good things in abundance and from this giving, deep and lasting relationship and relationships are formed.

The spirit of giving does have to be developed and I would like you to think of the things that have come about by giving, both for yourselves and for others. These far out-weigh any other method.

So we as Christians, as people of faith in a faithful God, are knowledgeable and experienced in the nature of a giving God. The gospel for all people is about giving the "Good News" of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, in word and in deed, and I know that all of you will rise up to that challenge.

Giving away the Good News says we have a confident faith, a living faith, and vibrant faith. A faith that says we have a very distinctive character with an edge to it. Enjoy living this way, giving in ministry and giving in mission.

I have proved that giving, if you are resourced and able to give in God's way, it's the right, it's the way the truth and the life. God bless you all. The Churches in Northampton are actively becoming involved in the Rugby World Cup as part of mission and Rev Romeo Pedro who specialises in all aspects of mission, and we as a ministry team will inform, help and support you in living the Christian faith, so that others will come to faith.

Rev John Marriott

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 “God delights in diversity”

Jonathan Sacks, in his book “The Great Partnership” writes the line above and goes on to explain that there are, for example, forty thousand different varieties of beetle.
The writer of the Psalms rejoices in the variety that God creates too as we can read in Psalm 104:24-25

“Lord, you have made so many things! How wisely you made them all! The earth is filled with your creatures. There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike…”

But coming back to Jonathan Sacks book again, his opening line is actually taken from a chapter which is about Darwin and the whole book is about the way in which Sacks sees the need for science and religion to work together rather than what seems to be the usual approach which brings these two into opposition in the ‘Science verses religion’ debate.

This approach tends to compartmentalise science and religion and treat them as separate worlds and ignores the view that science and religion speak about different ways of looking at and exploring the world which says that ‘Science is about the world that is and religion is about the world that ought to be’

I get really excited though at the point where Jonathan Sacks book stops and that is where I begin to explore God’s delight in diversity from a Christian viewpoint. For one of the criticisms I have heard levelled at Christians (or perhaps more accurately levelled at the church) is that the aim is to make a people who are uniform, where all Christians have the same belief structure, bound by the same rules and think the same thing.

In reality though, if we explore the Bible we find that Jesus’ approach was very different. Rather than encouraging those things which bind, oppress and restrict, he set out to free people from them.

Take for example the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) bed-ridden by an infirmity for thirty eight years, waiting for someone to lower him into the healing waters. A word from Jesus and the man was made well. Or what of Blind Bartimaeus, (defined by his blindness) and Jesus healing words “Go your faith has made you well” which sets Bartimaeus free to be the individual God wants him to be.

The much discussed verse in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:27) seems to have something to say about diversity too:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Amongst other things I believe that verse teaches that all people are created with the Godly characteristics which the Holy Spirit reveals such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and so on.

If God ‘delights in diversity’, that image which he creates us in is not a restricting image but one which frees us to live and rejoice in the difference and individuality which God longs for in you and in me.

Deacon Richard Beckett

Phil2015

When it comes to preaching or teaching about Pentecost, I’ve found that people either try to explain away the supernatural signs – the rushing wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages – or more often, ignore them altogether and focus on other aspects of the story e.g. as the beginning of the Church.

Pentecost was a wonderful event, a time when God came to people in a whole new way, something to really celebrate.  The difficulty with Pentecost is that it is all a bit supernatural and kind of tricky to explain and - let’s be honest - makes some of us a bit nervous.  So how do we handle it?  Is it better to focus on other things in the story?  I don’t think so!

When we see signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence we need to celebrate, even if it “throws” us for a moment and it isn’t quite what we had planned.  We need to celebrate not so much the signs themselves, but that God is here with us and powerfully at work for good.

I know that by the time you read this Pentecost may well have already passed but I hope you are still thinking very much about the Holy Spirit, particularly His involvement in the mission of the early Church.

In the days and weeks that followed Pentecost the Church grew rapidly.  Several times it is reported that ‘the Lord added to their number, those who were being saved’.  One of the most important things for us to remember is what Jesus said to the disciples before he left: they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them to be witnesses.  I don’t think they knew much about evangelism programmes or techniques, important and helpful as these can be.  The early church simply knew that they were dependent on God to bring new people into faith in Christ and so we find them very often at prayer seeking God’s help and leading.

It is really important to review our mission and outreach plans:  I’m not “knocking” that at all.  We really need to ensure that mission, evangelism and making disciples are high priority in what we do and plan as Church.  A church without mission at its heart would be like Coca-Cola deciding that their only aim is to run the cleanest, most perfectly tuned factory and forget that the purpose of the factory is to produce fizzy drinks; a church with no evangelism is like Northampton Saints management team focussing all their effort into running a nice club-house and forget all about their true purpose to be the best rugby team playing the most entertaining rugby.

It’s also vital that we remember, like the early Church, that we depend on God to touch people’s lives.  We need to pray asking for His help and trusting in Him, being careful not to put our faith solely in any the latest technique, or a “tried and trusted” method i.e. human effort alone. Remember that it is the Lord who adds to our number ‘those who are being saved’.  When we pray for God’s help and leading in outreach, and step out as his witnesses, He opens up opportunities in which we can simply share our faith.  Our role as witnesses is more to “midwife” people another step or two further along the way of faith toward new birth in Christ, and that’s where our training and mission strategy plans etc. come in.

So I invite you, encourage you, challenge you, particularly as we move on from Pentecost to pray more, to seek more of the working of the Holy Spirit, especially in our mission and outreach as churches and to be open to receive, to go with and to celebrate whatever the Holy Spirit is doing…

Yours in Christ,

Rev Tina Swire

Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

In pride of place in my home is a tea doll, which is special to the Innu of Labrador and they are the only people in the world with this tradition.

It is as you would expect, a doll stuffed with tea, but its significance is far deeper.

The Innu live in an environment which we might consider harsh, but which for them is a veritable Garden of Eden.  They live in close relationship with the land and one another and seek in all things to walk gently upon the earth often for many miles and for long periods of time.

However, it gets cold in Labrador and the only thing that its land and animals could not provide was a hot warming drink made from tea.

Tea, which they got at the trading stations became a precious commodity.  They would barter for a portion which they knew would last until their next visit to the trading store, and then they would get an extra, emergency ration, which went into their daughters dolls. 

And then they would journey, drink the tea, empty the dolls and fill them with moss, by which time they would return and trade and the cycle would begin again.

The daughters, the smallest of the group, would have felt valued and honoured, being entrusted with such a gift and the entire family would have been built up by this gift in their midst.

How much more so does the Holy Spirit do for us!  Its warmth sustains and empowers us, comforts and renews us and enables us to live as the people of Christ and family of God.  In its warmth and light, all know and feel their value and worth.

And what a gift! To be created in the very image of God, to be members of the body of Christ and to dream and see the dreams and visions of the Divine.  

This gift is not for ourselves alone.  We are invited to share this gift in love that all might drink deep at the well and be set free.

As we journey, let us hold on to this truth.  God has placed within our care a gift more precious and life giving than any tea.  It is ours to share in love, justice righteousness compassion, hope, trust and faith.  It is the good news that we are not alone.  God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

 Rev Tina Swire

romeo3

A short time ago, a Hungarian couple came to one of our churches in the circuit – they couldn’t speak much English. Upon the advice of one of our stewards they returned the next Sunday and there was someone who advised them where to go for a Hungarian speaking congregation. To my surprise they said that they wanted to return to our church (even with the language difficulty). That witnessed loudly, I think, to the hospitality that that church offers. In fact, I understand that that church now includes 17 nationalities in its fold.

Henri Nouwen said that one of the major spiritual movements in a Christian's life is to go from hostility to hospitality.

In the Bible, the original Greek word for "hospitality" means "love of strangers." The Bible contains references to a number of exemplary hosts. Abraham was venerated as a model for hosts: Genesis 18 tells how Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child after they welcomed divine strangers. Ruth (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) and Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6), as unlikely hostesses, are precursors of the Good Samaritan, a person from a despised group of people who exemplifies hospitality. Joseph, the father of Jesus, is an example of a person who lived out the values of hospitality and justice.Had Joseph not welcomed Jesus into his house of lineage, Emmanuel ("God is with us") would have been blocked from entering God's house on earth.

For Jesus, hospitality meant not only welcoming strangers, but also doing justice. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32), the father shows hospitality to both sons, the one who has stayed with him and the one who has returned after wasting his inheritance on riotous living. He encourages the older son, who is angry about the good treatment of his prodigal brother, to be hospitable, too. The host does not judge whether or not the guest is worthy to be loved and helped, but simply provides hospitality.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the New Creation of God avoids judgmental/exclusionary ways of relating to people by offering an ethic of hospitality and justice. In the ancient world where Jesus walked and talked, society established boundaries to protect itself from "contamination." Among the outcasts were persons with leprosy and other skin diseases. Lepers had to be announced by the words, "Unclean, unclean!" and lived alone or in small groups separated from the rest of the community (Matthew 8:1-3). Into such a world entered Jesus. He reached out and embraced not only lepers and other outcasts, but the whole world.

Into the world today comes Jesus. The modern world is very different from the ancient one. Yet, in terms of human hopes and fears, today's global community is so similar. Society still stigmatizes and discriminates against groups of people. Into the contemporary world, the Divine Healer brings the same gospel message of compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice as he did two thousand years ago. Jesus reaches out and embraces the whole world.

He invites us to join the household of God and asks us to offer hospitality to all. The One who says on Good Friday: “Woman, here is your Son. Son, here is your Mother” (John 19: 26-27), “calls us out to meet new brothers and sisters, new mothers and fathers and new sons and daughters” … and in so doing we will create a “new family that violates all old boundaries of exclusion and defensiveness” (Walter Bruegemann). The one who is the Resurrection and the Life shows us how to live and to help others to live.

My prayer is that we shall emulate these Biblical - and Jesus examples – that our churches shall become places of welcome and embrace. I salute the example set by one of our churches in this regard (I am simply using them as an example and I am sure that this is happening all over the circuit).

Prayer: Dear God, help us to become more hospitable, to open the doors of our hearts to you, to find more ways in which we can open the doors of our churches to all people. Teach us to be holy, to reach out to all those who have been created and loved by you. Amen.

 romeosig

RevJohnMarriott2

SIGNS

            By the time you receive this hopefully winter will be behind us and the signs of spring will be well underway, with the birds singing, the sunshine becoming warmer, the colour of the, bluebells, snowdrops and crocus coming through. The buds will be formed on bushes and trees ready to open outwards and add more colour. The grass will start to grow and be a more vibrant green colour.                                                                                                      

These are the signs of spring and more importantly they are signs of new life and creation, something that we need to be aware of, to enjoy and be part of. Spring is a time of reawakening and growth, and these signs help and contribute to our outlook on life.                                                                         

In our modern and contemporary life we have all sorts of signs all around us in many forms, giving us information, to act in a mandatory way or advisory way, to make us aware and be alert.                                                   

We live in a very visual age and looking around us we can become overloaded by all these signs and information so much so that we can lose something or lose clarity in what we are supposed to be seeing.                                   

Over the last few months I have been reading a book by Prof Steve Peters called The Chimp Paradox. It was a Christmas Gift that I asked for. He is  noted as a highly qualified and expert sports psychologist who has helped many people who are elite sports men and women in what they have been able to achieve in their chosen sporting profession. He has worked with and been able to help such people as Snooker Player Ronnie O'Sullivan, Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Chris Hoy and the British Cycling Team both men and women's.                                                                                

In his book he talks about the character and makeup of the Chimpanzee and goes into great depth about the behaviour and makeup of the chimpanzee and human behaviour and characteristics.                                    

He speaks of how the two are very closely related and you may be thinking this is not "Rocket Science" and that you don't need to be told this. One of the biggest challenges each of us face is that the human has to manage and work with the chimp, either male or female. Both have many common characteristics, with some dominant and unique ones, depending on which gender perspective you are using.                                                      

One of the things I have learnt is that the chimp is five times as strong as a human so you don't fight it, you manage and work with it.  You try to channel all the chimps energy into helping you. Chimps with this strength can cause a lot of damage if it decides to go on the rampage and is allowed to.  The positive and negative aspects.                                                          

One other thing that I learnt is that the capacity of our mind is twenty times quicker than that of the chimp to compute and to understand, so I should be able to see where the chimp is coming from, recognising the signs quicker or more effectively.                                                                 

So as I use this book to reflect and think more deeply, we are all people who are full of signs and signals, joyful or sorrowful, active or passive, a person is full of feelings.                                                                                   

I am a living sign, and it is a well-known fact that words alone don't communicate the whole story very well. We use our whole bodies and character as signs, known as non-verbal communication.                                               

Jesus is the ultimate revelation and expression of this and of God. Jesus also said "love one another as I have loved you" by this people will know that you are my disciples, in word and in deed. We are witness to transformational love of God that we find in Jesus, as Lord, Saviour and friend.     

The Church that we share in the life of, which is God's Church, also needs to be a sign and witness of having a living and vibrant faith in community. The sign of true life in God is the empty cross and the empty tomb. Isn't it strange how we find a sign in something being empty?             

But the cross is a place where God has sorted out the one problem that we could never sort out ourselves, that is our sin.                                    

Our journey as Christians in Lent should take us to the foot of the cross, where we find we are forgiven, loved and free. We now can be the sign that God wants each of us to be as his disciples in a living faith community.  Every blessing in Jesus.      

Rev John Marriott

  

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I wonder if you’re among those who give up chocolate for Lent, or maybe like my daughter it’ll be crisps (she does like crisps more than chocolate!) or, like my son told us a few years ago, he’d be giving up broccoli this year for Lent (he doesn’t like or eat broccoli… ever!!).

Yes it’s February already and Lent is fast approaching.  I find quite a lot of people give up something for Lent and why not?! Or actually I want to ask, “Why?”  What are they doing it for?  A lot of people I talk to don’t really seem to know, except perhaps that they’re doing it as some sort of exercise in self-discipline or even hoping to be slightly healthier by the end of it.  Fair enough I suppose but is that really what it’s meant to be about?

I know a lady who doesn’t give anything up for Lent, but instead does something extra (no not to do with chocolate).  Usually this has been to organise a weekly lunch for the period of Lent, invite speakers to talk about aspects of Christian faith and people to come and share a simple lunch, fellowship, to listen and to reflect.  I think she is pretty close to the mark.

Lent isn’t exactly Biblical but it has been part of Christian tradition from early on.  To begin with it was a period of preparation, a time of concentrated study and prayer for those who were getting ready for their baptism which would have taken place early on Easter Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection life of Jesus.  And the rest of the church community joined in the preparation too, taking time to seek spiritual renewal and increasingly focus on the Easter story and what it means to be part of Christ’s body, the Church.

There is also perhaps an element of fasting in giving up something for Lent and fasting is about making a sacrifice to seek God more intensely, more fervently.  You could say it’s about giving 

something else up to make more time to pray and seek God.  So that’s what I encourage you to do.

 At Emmanuel we are planning a Lent course on Wednesday evenings and also some prayer resources for people to follow.  We make it of our preparation and build-up through Lent as we journey together toward Good Friday and the cross and our celebrations on Easter Sunday.

 If you are going to give something up for Lent, why not use the giving up as a means of prompting you to seek more of God.  Every time you miss whatever you’ve given up, say a prayer instead.

 If you’re not giving up something for Lent, why not choose a way to put extra effort into seeking more of God.  Try taking time to seek spiritual renewal and increasingly focus on the Easter story.

 God encourages us to seek Him and really does want us to discover the wonder and blessing of His presence in our lives.


Yours in Christ,

Revd Phil Snelson

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,”
declares the LORD…
Jeremiah 29:13

 

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 Hospitality is a word we use a great deal at the University Chaplaincy when we are talking about the welcome that we give students.

As individual Christians and churches we can learn a lot about the welcome we give people from the example set by Abraham when he welcomed three strangers to his tent. You can read about Abraham’s actions in Genesis 18, verses 1-8 but here I want to just highlight some of the striking details and share some thoughts on their significance for us.

Abraham sits at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day and he looks up and is startled to see three men standing there.

And suddenly out of habit the whole Jewish tradition of hospitality kicks in and even though Abraham was ‘already very old’ he hurried from the entrance to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

I remember visiting a church in Bermondsey (the majority of the congregation were Ghanaian or Zimbabwean.) I was there for the first time that day and I was surprised when the minister asked the congregation if there were any visitors there and would they stand and introduce themselves!

That’s the normal tradition in many churches and a sure sign of hospitality but as a leader, I am not sure I would ever have the nerve to ask newcomers to do that myself (too British and reserved perhaps?) but actually it felt quite special to me and there was no doubt who the new people were and were especially warmly welcomed after the service too.

  • Our welcome when people come to our churches needs to be appropriate and practical – simple things like making sure families with children know about the facilities available and what provision is available for them can make all the difference; Perhaps showing them the rooms where their children will be, and yes, even asking people to introduce themselves during the service might be appropriate. Such things as making an effort to overcome barriers where English is not the first language can help too.

Then Abraham springs into action and offers more hospitality – he urges the visitors to stay – offers foot washing and rest and ‘ a little water….and something to eat’, which turns out to be bread made from the finest flower, a choice tender calf and curds and milk!

  • That says something about how we go out of our way to be generous when welcoming people. Do we offer the best we can? Have you done a quality check on your tea, coffee or biscuits lately? Are cups and saucers the easiest thing to handle when you have young children?

Amazingly Abraham and Sarah demonstrated their hospitality even before they knew who their visitors were which says so much to us about how we too should express God’s unconditional hospitality as we welcome others into our churches, our homes and our lives.

Happy New Year      Deacon Richard Beckett

Rev Tina Swire

Blessed are you, O Christ Child, that your cradle was so low that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthy people, could yet kneel beside you, and look, level-eyed, into the face of God.  Blessed One, we come to you in reverence.  (Prayer from Uganda)

I love Christmas cards.  I have one with the usual picture of Mary and Joseph and the star and the animals and the kings and the shepherds.  And yet, this very pretty image misses out the energy, the love, the transforming life affirming love of God, made known to us in the Incarnation.

And so I send you this one.

The wonder of the Natal Christ is both profoundly empowering and deeply humbling, for it witnesses to us that God is with us, especially in the frailties of life, and in them, transforms them with a love which bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things and which never ends.

God, being all powerful did not have to become Incarnate in a human birth.  Pregnancy and birth are a vulnerable time, a time of dependency, of wonder surely, but also with no guarantees.  Anything can happen, and sadly, does.  The child is utterly dependent on the mother and the mother is at risk to nutrition, environmental factors and numerous other things beyond her control.  Yes, the odds are better now, than in Mary’s day, but not for all women, and not completely so.

Why choose such a way of coming into the world?  God the all powerful all knowing all seeing all loving, eternal strong to save whose arm hast calmed the restless wave, surely to be so humble, so dependent on another is a profound statement of love.

We too are frail and vulnerable.  But it is in vulnerability, that God, in the Holy Spirit can dance and set the whole creation free.  In vulnerability, people were healed in Christ Jesus.  In vulnerability, we witness to whose we are and why we are. 

Manger and cross and empty tomb are intimately linked.  It is God’s will to gather all creation in the gift of Christ.  And as a reflection of our communion in the Triune God, of manger cross and empty tomb, the church is God’s instrument in fulfilling this prayer.  For in vulnerability, in being present in the vulnerabilities of the world, and in being vulnerable in their midst, the God of manger, and makes all things new.   In the cross and empty tomb, we know that God is drawn into the brokenness of life, and brings forth healing and wholeness, and right relationships with all of Creation.

 God comes in humility and asks us live our faith in such a way, for humility is an antidote to arrogance.  Further, humility recognizes and is at peace with our limited knowledge, creativity and moral character and keeps our hubris in balance.  In humility, we find our strength.

 We are not islands; we need and depend on each other.  Sometimes that feels good, other times, it is a challenge.  For whatever reason, we bump along, in the glorious wonder and messiness and confusion and insight and joy that is the human condition

The Incarnation helps us to see this truth.  The measure of a healthy, life affirming society  is not whether it privileges those who have much with much more,  but whether the vulnerable, the fragile, the humble, the dependent, the shepherds of our time, are privileged and honoured and lifted up.

This is no sentimental Christmas card, but one which is life for all.  Let us go and live the wonder and the mystery and joy of Christmas every day.  May you know God’s richest blessings this holy season and in all seasons.

 

 Rev Tina Swire

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 It is five days before Christmas 1994 (ministers in Southern Africa traditionally move into their new appointments on the 20th of December): I am an energetic, young, visionary minister of the gospel, having just finished my training and being appointed to my first pastoral assignment. I am running late, having had car trouble. So, I step into the phone booth, take out the little note book and nervously dial the number. A heavy German accent on the other side of the line says, “Hello, who is speaking?” My stomach turns as I respond: “Good afternoon, it is Reverend Romeo Pedro speaking. I am just phoning to say that I am running a bit late!” “Very typical of you people,” she says. To my greatest shock, she says: “Why are you coming? Have you not heard that we do not want a minister who is not white?”

I say: “Good Bye ma’am” and put the phone back on the receiver. I stand still for a moment – for what feels like a very long time. Then someone taps on the door of the phone booth. “What’s wrong? You look pale.” It is my dad. I open the door and relate the story to my parents. They both look at me as if they are not surprised. You see – they grew up and lived under the brutal Apartheid regime. They look like they have expected this type of reaction. Then this wise African woman that I call mom, says: “Son, if you keep your nose to the stone, soon it will be just you, your nose and that stone. You cannot allow this distraction to consume you. Keep your eyes on the greater goal.” As she hugs me, I feel her tears on my shoulder.

What is the greater goal? Then I remember why I am here: I want to share the love of Jesus with God’s people, irrespective of who they are. And yes, I want to share His love even with that heavy German accent on the other side of the telephone line. Dad puts his hand on my shoulder and says: “Come son, it’s getting late. We’ve got to get you there. We get into the car. And as we drive westward, I watch the sun set and say to myself. As sure as the sun sets it will rise again tomorrow. And I am reminded of the old African proverb: “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.” It’ll be ok. Emmanuel is with me.

That – and many other experiences after that, made me realise that one of the great failures of ministers like myself is that we have urged people to love, and we have criticised the lack of love in the world, yet we have not become love. We have not known how to teach our own souls in the art of loving. It is so much easier to love those who are like us, who think like us and to love those who make us feel good. Will I dare to enjoy the presence of the sacred even in those who annoy me?

At the end of our Liturgical Year we will celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This is perfectly appropriate for it reminds us of the purpose of our year-in and year-out living — putting Jesus first in all things. As the author of Colossians puts it: “Jesus is the image of the invisible God (In our context today: Jesus is God’s selfie).” (Col 1:15-16 and 18). “The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because Godislove—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.” (1 John 4: 7-8).As our Liturgical Year ends and a New Liturgical year begins this month - May our default stance be for Jesus. What does it mean to be for Jesus? It means to be for what he was for. To be for: LOVE, truth, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion for the vulnerable, to live lives of prayer, peace, joy and justice etc. This stance for Jesus is the most faithful way we can prepare for his birth among us.

There is such intolerance everywhere around us today – and it is so easy to focus on that and to be drawn into it ourselves. More than ever before, we need to focus on Jesus and to live the values of the Reign of God – to be an alternative to that which we see around us. More than ever before, we need to be a welcoming community – a place for ALL God’s people.

I am convinced that people come back to churches when they experience relationship (love). We can have all the best programmes in the world, we can offer the best preachers and the best music, but if people do not feel loved (welcomed), they will not return. It is my prayer that the Methodist Churches in Northampton, will become known as places where people are welcome, irrespective of who they are. And as we dare to do that, we must remind each other:                                    

Emmanuel (God is with us)! 

Romeo

Rev Romeo Pedro

RevJohnMarriott2

 To the People of God called "Methodists"

One simple thing my mother taught me was mind you "P's and Q's" particularly when outside of the family home with the family name.  I soon found out what ‘P’s did and meant, the "Q's" took me years to fathom out even though I was using them without knowing their real value.  These are two very special and very valuable words in life, they make such a difference, they can open the door  to many possibilities in the depth and richness of life that God has designed, planned and given to us all. Speaking or writing down these words, adds a magnitude and impact beyond their physical size. The human race responds well to these. So I have had a polite request, please could you write and write regularly to the Churches that you have been placed amongst by God?  "Not by my might, nor by my power, but by my Spirit".  God's Spirit of  love.                                                                    

I will not be writing like St Paul for example, but through my own gifting, graces and skills. Writing with tradition following in the steps of St Paul, "a letter to the Churches" I feel better already. In our modern world of technology and communication, which sometimes I think is not superior to those methods used by our ancestors, I have been asked to write a few words and these will be for you on a regular basis.                          

When I reflect upon the life of Jesus he wrote down very few words.  The best example was when he wrote in the sand beneath his feet.  I am of the same mould in that I write very few words except when politely requested. For Jesus to spend his short time writing lots of words would have been a waste.  He left it to others to record the happenings and events and to write their own special perspectives on the one story of God's relationship with us and our relationship with God.  The greatest love story ever!                                                                    

So what did Jesus do? He was the world's greatest observer, he discerned and reflected deeply, on what he saw, touched, heard, smelt, tasted and experienced. From these he revealed God to us, in the person who he was, in his being and in his doing. What a man, not just a man, but the Son of God.  Writings and words are good and they are there for a reason, no more exemplified than in the Holy Word of God in the Bible. The book which guides us as we read, and the book which also reads us, that's what makes it special.                             

In the life which God desires for us, life in all its fullness found in Christ, a life of faith in a faithful God, we will be using many forms of communication, in imaginative ways in different contexts to communicate the gospel in the reality of life, where God has placed us. If God has found us, or we have found God, we will be involved in the most  deep and intimate way in God's story.  How does that make you feel?  For each of you and I myself have now become writers in the story, about the messenger that became the message.  Perhaps I do write more words that I let on.                      

Peace and blessings to you all in Jesus,

Rev John.   

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I don’t know how many people called Methodist read the Methodist Recorder these days or if you are like me, you might just look at the pictures! But even if you haven’t read it – you may have noticed some figures published recently about falling church membership and attendance in the Methodist Church and the various responses to the effect that we must do something about mission/evangelism because of this.

Our motivation for sharing the Good News with others must spring from a natural and overwhelming desire to tell others about Jesus and God’s undying love for every person rather than out of fear for what might happen to the Methodist Church if we don’t.

To quote Martyn Atkins (General Secretary of the Methodist Church in a report to conference this year):

“There is increasing awareness that however understandable it is, the main thing

is not (merely) the survival of an institution, even a wonderful institution like our

beloved Church. Rather we are realising afresh that the best thing that anyone

can do, whoever they are, wherever they live, at whatever time and in whatever

circumstances is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And consequently seeking

and finding apt, relevant, sensitive and effective ways of presenting Jesus Christ

to the world in which we live with so many and so different others, is the critical

task of the Church today.”

Jesus great commission to his followers was:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

It is important to notice that Jesus’ commission was not to an institutional church or an established organisation but to a group of individuals who were chosen by God and (according to 1 Corinthians 1:18-31) were “vulnerable, foolish, inarticulate and those who struggled to present his message.


If that sounds like a very familiar group of people to you, you would be right in identifying each one of us with all our frailties and uncertainties and yet we too are being called to speak to people about the love of Jesus. Believe it or not there is once again a whole new generation of people who do not know the story of how God revealed himself to the world through Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.

We have a tendency to look back at how things used to be in the days when our Sunday Schools were full; when each church had a thriving youth club; when house groups were many; when our church services were well attended; and so on but we should not let the past cloud God’s vision for the future because each one of us has a part to play, not so that we can get back to the way things were but so that more people will become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Blessings and Peace.

Deacon Richard Beckett        

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Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

—James 4:13–14


This being my last letter for the circuit, I thought I would take this opportunity to remind each of us about the need for God to be at the centre of all our plan making.  The Bible doesn't condemn the person who makes plans for the future. Rather, it criticises the person or fellowship that makes those plans with no thought whatsoever for the will of God. That is a dangerous thing to do. God won't share His glory with another.

There is nothing wrong with making plans. Paul told the believers in Ephesus that he would return for renewed ministry amongst them, "God willing" (Acts 18:21). He wrote to the Corinthians that he planned another visit "if the Lord willed" (1 Corinthians 4:19). On other occasions, Paul spoke of his plans to do certain things and how the Lord changed his plans. We have our plans. We have our purposes. We have our agendas. But the Lord may redirect us.

Jesus taught us to pray, "Your will be done" (Luke 11:2). Our prayers will be effective and successful when we align our will with the will of God and pray accordingly.

Prayer is not getting our will in heaven; it is getting God's will on earth. It is not moving God our way; it is moving ourselves His way.

We need to remember that His will may be different from ours. And we must be willing to accept that.

The God who knows you inside out also knows what lies ahead for you in life. We can always fall back on the simple promise of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."

So as we prepare to go our separate ways, I want to encourage you that, God's plans for you are better than any plans you have for yourself. So don't be afraid of God's will, even if it's different from yours. 

Every Blessing Reverend Martin Swan

 

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No doubt you’ve heard of “Street Pastors” but I wonder if you’ve heard about “School Pastors”.  Street Pastors patrol the streets of the town late on Friday and Saturday nights to help and support vulnerable people who are part of the night-life.  School Pastors have a similar principle but their role is to help and support young people on their way home from school in the afternoon.

It was very exciting last October, when the Community Safety Partnership (CSP) approached Street Pastors to ask whether they could provide support for school children.  From there, Richard Johnson, the chair of Street Pastors in Northampton, invited me and one or two others to be part of the new project.  Based on the national initiative for School Pastors we began to put together a proposal for a pilot scheme based in Northampton East.  Gradually we have arrived at a School Pastors project that will run for a year starting in September 2014 with the hope that not only will that continue but further projects for other areas of Northampton will then be approved. 

The project is a partnership between CSP, Street Pastors, the local churches and Northampton Academy, all working together to help young people feel and be safer on their way home.  The initial patrols will be on a Thursday afternoon with School Pastors patrolling together in two’s or three’s – never on their own!  School Pastors have to be people who’ve been members of a recognised church for at least two years and so far we have an initial team of seven people on the training programme.  Our commissioning service is on 18th July, 7:30pm at St Giles in town.

It is so exciting that the local authorities are coming to the Church (in the form of Street Pastors) for help in the community.  What is more, CSP are already keen to fund and promote further schemes across Northampton.  It seems to me it makes all the difference, and “the world” notices, when the whole church sets aside our denominational interests and simply does mission together as one: Street Pastors and School Pastors are good examples of just that.

So the challenge is laid down to us as the Church to support and serve our community!!

We really need churches and groups to support the work in prayer, starting now with the training and preparing the way and then on into supporting the patrols from September onwards. 

We also need more volunteers to train and become School Pastors as the project grows.  Karen is our co-ordinator if you want to know more (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  There is also a Northampton School Pastors website with more information:  http://www.northampton.streetPastors.org.uk/school-pastors/

Thank you for your support and prayers,

 

Yours in Christ,

Revd Phil Snelson
School Pastor in training

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Pentecost and Power of the Holy Spirit

“When the day of Pentecost came... Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting...All of them were filled with the holy Spirit .” (Acts 2:1-4)

It is assumed that Christians have just two major festivals - Christmas and Easter. But what about the Pentecost? The Bible tells us that Pentecost was held 50 days after the Passover, it was also called the Feast of Weeks in the Jewish calendar. It was one of three very important annual feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16) which is a festival of thanksgiving for the harvested crops. Jews from different nations travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. Interestingly, Jesus was crucified at Passover time and he ascended 40 days after his resurrection. The Holy Spirit came 50 days after the resurrection, ten days after his ascension. I would like to point out here that these numbers are only guidelines for us to know when things happened roughly. And at Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit in the form of fiery tongues (see Luke 3:16). The fiery tongues symbolized speech and the spreading of the Good news of the Risen Lord Jesus.

Being empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit Peter addressed (Acts 2:14ff) an international gathering in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit convinced them of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. As a result, Jews coming from various nations believed in Jesus and 3000 people gave their lives to Christ. The encounter with the Holy Spirit made them never to be the same again. So after the Pentecost celebration those new believers went back to their places and began to talk about their new experience which no doubt may have resulted in further growth of the Christian fellowship.

God made his presence known to a group of believers in a spectacular way through a violent wind, fire, and his Holy Spirit. Do we expect God to reveal himself to us in such recognizable ways in our time?  Do we also wait on God like the disciples did (Acts 1:12ff)? Do we ask God for his wisdom, approval and blessings when we make decisions?

Very often I am tempted to get on with things/jobs even when I know I run ahead of God. But sometimes waiting is a part of God’s eternal plan for our life. Let us not hesitate to wait on him and listen to what God is saying and how He wants to guide us to accomplish his mission. This is one of the ways by which we will realise how God’s timing and his power become effective in our lives for His glory.

As the early disciples did (Acts 2:42-47) we must ‘devote’ ourselves to reading the Bible, to fellowshipping with other Christians, to partaking in the Holy Communion and prayer. This cannot be achieved until we have learnt to sit alone with the resurrected Christ in his school of discipleship to encounter the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us be open to receive his power through the Holy Spirit to be a New People so that we may produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is not by our strength but the power of the Holy Spirit we can be what God wants us to be.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Nutan Suray

 

Rev Tina Swire

The liturgical church year is a gift.  It is a framework for our faith life and prayer life to reflect on our life in Christ in all of its seasons of Advent and Christmas, Epiphany, Season after Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, season after Pentecost, leads us to reflect that we are not alone.  Year in, year out, in all its seasons of church life, we are not alone.  God is with us.

The liturgical church calendar is also a wonderful journey in prayer.  We are all on a journey and in that journey there are seasons.  There is our life cycle itself of youth, middle age and the years of wisdom.  In each of those stages, we are not alone.

Our faith has seasons as well; sometimes it feels dry, like bones in the valley.  There are seasons of doubt, of insight, of loss, of joy and all things in between. 

In all of these seasons, we are called to be an Easter people, a people of hope.  For Christ is alive and is with us, in all these seasons.

We are going through a season of change as new friends join us and loved ones move on. We are called to discern the way forward in our chapels and circuit and world.  And in this journey, we will experience all the seasons of our faith.

This is because we serve a true and living God who will never leave us nor desert us.  A manger, cross and empty tomb are witness and sign.

Our invitation is to trust in God, who in the paradox of faith, is changeless but changes everything.  In all these changes, the Spirit dances, Christ lives and God rejoices.

Let us go forward in faith.

 

 Rev Tina Swire

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 Have we lost the adventurous spirit of the journey with Jesus?

On a retreat last year, I read J.R.Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. Actually it was the second time I had read it, the first being in my early teens (Just a few years ago!)
It seems an odd choice of book to read on retreat but it fitted my mood at the time.
If you don’t know the story, Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his Hobbit hole. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep to whisk him away on an adventure which draws the simple creature into a journey of danger, risk, vulnerability, courage, and companionship, a journey on which he discovers his own resourcefulness and skills.

Probably because I read the story on retreat I recognised the obvious parallels between my own my own journey with Jesus which has also at times involved all those things which Bilbo experienced on his journey.

Basically I am that ‘home-loving creature’ too but so often a phone call, or an email or a conversation draws me into unknown territory where I can be vulnerable, need courage and experience a whole new array of emotions. But this is nothing to be afraid of if we are truly journeying with Jesus indeed it is often part of the journey he calls us to.

We are in the season of Lent, traditionally a time to focus on prayer, repentance and perhaps self-denial. A season ending with the events of Holy week and Jesus’ crucifixion but then the real adventure begins. Have a look at the end of Mark’s Gospel for the description of the adventure which Jesus calls us to be a part of:

….Then Jesus said, “Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved; whoever refuses to believe is damned.

“These are some of the signs that will accompany believers: They will throw out demons in my name, they will speak in new tongues, they will take snakes in their hands, they will drink poison and not be hurt, they will lay hands on the sick and make them well.” (Mark 16:14-18 The Message version)

Not an easy command to obey but that is an adventure we are a part of too so when the Holy Spirit knocks on the door and disturbs our comfortableness don’t be afraid to open it and venture out into new territory. And don’t forget that we travel with others in Christian companionship too.

Don’t be like Bilbo who said initially “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”

Deacon Richard Beckett

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Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: "Love your neighbour as yourself."

—Matthew 22:37–39


Some years ago, three hundred whales were found marooned on a beach. Scientists speculated that the whales had been chasing sardines and became trapped in shallow water when the tide went out.

Now, I think that's an amazing thing. By chasing little sardines, these gigantic creatures were ultimately led to their doom.

I think too many of us waste our lives chasing sardines, so to speak. If we are not careful individuals and of course our circuit can major on the minors and have no clear focus or objective in mind for the bigger picture. However, for all of us, God tells us clearly what should be the primary goal of every Christian.

If we can get our priorities straight in this area, everything else will come together. In fact, if we can get these two principles clear in our lives, then all the commandments of God will become a natural outflow of our commitment to Him

What are these principles? One, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind" (Matthew 22:37, NLT), and two, "Love your neighbour as yourself "(verse 39, NLT).

When Jesus spoke these words, He was identifying what should be the focus of every person. Essentially, He was saying that love is the basis for all obedience. If we really love God, then we will naturally want to do the things that please Him and not ourselves.

It has been said that if you aim at nothing, you are bound to hit it. So the questions for our Circuit life together. What is our highest priority? What are our goals?

Reverend Martin Swan 


 
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“For everything there is a season...”

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Dear Friends,

The New Calendar Year is well and truly begun. I have made plans for 2014. I am considering pursuing different projects. I am determined to complete what I have started. Does this sound like your New Year resolution? When is it a good season to begin working on the resolutions?

I have been recently thinking a lot about ‘season’. But as I am growing older(!) I resonate more and more with what King Solomon says:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)           

These sayings were not mere sayings but were based on Solomon’s life experiences. He had had a real mix of ‘seasons’ in his life. What is your season at the moment? Is it a season of change, or waiting, or something else? Perhaps it is a season of trusting God a little bit more?

Whatever we may plan, however keen we may be to achieve our goals, we know that only the plan of the Lord succeeds (Proverbs 16:1). Besides, I am sure you will agree that things happen according to God’s perfect timing even though sometimes we cannot explain why.

So let this year be a year of confident knowledge that God is with us irrespective of the season of our life. Let us serve the living God in all ‘seasons’ and in all circumstances. Let this season be a time of renewal and rejoicing.

Yours in Christ,

Nutan

Rev. Nutan Suray

 

 

Rev Tina Swire

One of my favourite hymns is I feel the winds of God today.  It speaks of trust and commitment and hope.  It does so with the use of sea imagery; waters crest, seek the seas, brave another cruise.  And since I grew up on the sea, it has deep resonance for me.

Sometimes I have sung it in times of joy and exultation.  Other times, it has encouraged me in times of despair.  And I always reflect on it at this time of year when we share in the Covenant service and pause to reflect on whose we are and why we are.

The Covenant Prayer says:  I am no longer my own, but yours.  Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do, and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace.  Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things and when I have nothing.  I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.  Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit you are mine and I am yours.  May it be so for ever.  Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.  Amen. 

These are hopeful, trusting words, which also speak of commitment and dedication.  In praying this prayer, we witness to our trust in God who invites us to do these things and who is also with us in this faithful life.

It will take us to new places and insights, and place us where we are needed.  It will take us ever deeper in our faith, prayer and service.  And it means we are never alone.  In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.

I am no longer near the sea, and had you asked me ten years ago, if I would find myself living in the joys of Northamptonshire, I would have said, “Not a clue.”

But God does.  To pray this prayer is to trust that Christ who was, who is, and who is to come, is with us yet.  As we embrace a new year, with its endless possibilities and wonder, with its questions, uncertainties, with its hopes and dreams, let us do so with confidence and hope.

I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift, though heavy oft with drenching spray and torn with many a rift; if hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use, I’ll seek the seas at his behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears, until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years; if cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be, O let me feel your freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget your love and how that love was shown, lift high the blood red flag above; it bears your name alone.  Great pilot of my onward way, you will not let me drift.  I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift.  (Kingsfold)

 

 Rev Tina Swire

Rev Tina Swire

As we come together to reflect on the wonder and gift of the Incarnation, stewardship does not immediately come to mind, and yet the two go closely in hand.

The gift of the Christ Child is indeed a cause to celebrate and rejoice in.  It should involve worship of God, loud singing of carols and feasting with family, because the Christ Child comes to birth endless possibilities and wonder in our lives.

The incarnation also means that every moment of our lives, are abundant with the divine.  All the moments of our lives, in all the quiet moments, in all the huge ones, in the times of confusion and despair, in the times of joy and wonder, in the questions, in the answers in the silence and in the song of the angels, God is present.

I have often wondered if this why God says that the Divine Name is I Am.  The very name of God tells us that we are never alone.  God is always with us.  This is the wonder, the gift  and the joy of the Incarnation.  And rightly all heaven and creation sang, and rejoiced in the angel chorus and shepherds the lowliest of society, were set free.

Stewardship is an honouring of this gift and the living of it.  To live the life of a steward is to nurture, to care, to honour to serve and to respect. It is to honour and recognize the Incarnation.

For if the Incarnation is real to us, it will inform and inspire how we treat one another, spend our money, and live in creation.  It becomes the way we live our faith.  Our faith will inform how we serve and live out our stewardship, and our service will inform our faith, and God’s Spirit will give us dreams and visions that we might grow ever deeper in both.

The gift of the Incarnation gifts us then with opportunities to grow in and live the words we say.  As we prepare ourselves to receive the gift of the Christ child once again, let us take this time to reflect on how we live our faith.  Are there areas in the life of the church that Christ is inviting you to serve in?  What about the world?  Is Christ inviting you to grow and in your faith journey, your spiritual and prayer life, that you might grow ever deeper in the gift of the Incarnation and in living as a steward of God’s love?

Our circuit and chapels will face challenges, opportunities and changes in the year upcoming, for that is the way of life.  Let us trust in and live this gift in our midst and share all the gifts with one another, the gifts that Christ brings to us all.

And let us remember in all things that we are not alone.  God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

 

 Rev Tina Swire

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We were fortunate to have a lovely holiday in Northumberland this year and one of the highlights was walking across the sands to Holy Island and back later in the day, being careful to time our walk to coincide with the low tides.

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As we set out to walk the three miles across the open sands there were a number of features which reassured us we were on the right track: a line of tall wooden poles which marked the safest route; A number of ‘rescue stations’ (In case walkers were cut off by the tide); Footsteps in the sand of those who had walked that way recently.

 

All of these things assured us in our journey and encouraged us when our legs became tired, our feet got wet and our boots started to stick in the wet mud.

 

Encouraging each other is an essential part of what we do as a church and this has been so since the church began as we find from the letters to the early churches:

 

God did not choose us to suffer his anger, but to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that we might live together with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes. And so encourage one another and help one another, just as you are now doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

 

Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. (Hebrews 10:25)

 

And if we look into the origins of the Methodist church or ‘Societies’ as they were then called we find the same need for encouragement (Of course, if a similar statement were written today it would include men and women!)

 

Such a Society is no other than ‘a company of men, having the form, and seeking the power, of godliness; united, in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.’                                                            (The Wesleys, Rules of the Society 1743)

 

The difference here is that what the Wesleys described was far more than encouragement. It was a knuckling down to the real task of working out together how we might live as Christians and being accountable to each other in love for the joys and mistakes along the way.

 

So I leave you with a couple of questions to ponder for your own Christian journey:

 

What will you leave behind to enable other people to come closer to God?

 

What will you do to make it easier for other people to travel with Jesus?

 

Deacon Richard Beckett                                        November 2013

 

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Revelation Chapter 1: 17-18

‘And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more.  And I have the keys of Hades and of Death’.

Revelation 3 records the words of Jesus to the church in Philadelphia.  And in this chapter Jesus is saying some very specific things to that early church fellowship.  He was telling them how to live and how to trust in Him.  However, I think we could just as easily take out the word ‘Philadelphia’ and replace it with our own names, the names of our different church fellowships and this circuit:

‘These things says He who is Holy, He who is true, He who has the Key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, I have kept my word, and have not denied my Name’

Jesus says ‘I have the Key of David’.  What does that mean?  Well it means that he has the Key to every lock.  Jesus can open every door, every compartment of our lives.  God is in control of all events throughout history, past, present and future.  God will open some doors and He will close others.  Sometimes like the early church, we can make the mistake of thinking it is all up to us. And we are in control of His church.  And so it is a good to be reminded that it is God who holds us in the palms of His hands.  And the doors He opens will be opened for good.  No power or person on earth can change this.  So be at peace and rest, we have a faithful God.  And we don’t have to be afraid to commit an unknown future to a known God in Christ.

Every Blessing

Reverend Martin Swan 


 
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Safe under God’s wings

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He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will

rest in the shadow of the Almighty

(Psalm 91:1)

 

Dear Friends,

 I have come to love the Psalms, because they present a reality of the human journey with a combination of celebration, pain, loss, hope, trust and confidence in the Lord. Psalm 91 in particular speaks of assurance, praise and rejoicing for protection from God against every possible evil. When we abide and take refuge under his care there is nothing that would destroy us. It is true that God doesn’t promise us a world that is free from danger, but he certainly promises his timely help in our trouble. So this Psalm helps us to feel safe under God’s wings. This also reminds us that those who dwell in the shadow of the Almighty God will never be put to shame. Even though  Psalms are quite old songs they speak for our society today.

In our contemporary world, the thought of the mountains or cities in the world suddenly crumbling into the sea makes us to live with fear. Sometimes leaders of nations are worried when a country threatens another country with the use of nuclear weapons. Hence, it is natural to be fearful of the end of the world.  But for Christians, there is no need to have fear, because, God in whom we have believed, is able to save us. There is no shadow of a doubt that God is our protection no matter what we face. It is a great assurance to know that God is not just a temporary shelter to escape troubles, but He is the eternal dwelling place for those who take refuge in him. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. And will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in who I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2). Since God is a safe place there is no need to be afraid because He cares for us. Even though sometimes we do not understand, it is a fact that God is able to see us through all situations of life. According to this Psalm we can experience all things which the Psalmist talks about when we continue to dwell in him. It means to follow him, trusting that he will keep us safe under his mighty wings. Whether we like it or not, God alone can provide us with the needed strength as we continue in our Christian journey.

After the resurrection, Jesus, knowing his disciples’ fear of both the known and the unknown said, “Behold I am with you always till the end of the world.” Having seen the crucifixion and the burial, the disciples thought their journey of following Jesus of Galilee was finished. The disciples needed to hear encouraging words from their master after that harrowing experience of Jesus’ crucifixion. They were comforted to hear their Master’s voice again with the assurance of his everlasting presence. We ask, when faced with temptation and trials, is Jesus with me? In such a context, ‘God being with us’ (Immanuel) brings great consolation, however this requires our deeper commitment to him irrespective of our personal circumstances.

It is a privilege for us to believe in Christ, who keeps his promise because he is trustworthy. His words prove how faithful he is: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). Let us remember that he is always with us to help, providing shelter, security and peace. God’s power is incomprehensible, and his ultimate victory is certain for us, no matter what we go through.  Also he is able to surround us with his everlasting presence and peace that would last forever.

All these attributes of God should make us stand quietly before him, he who is the King of glory, worthy of our praise and splendour with his Majesty. Let us take some moments during this summer season to be still and to continue to experience the presence of the Lord in our lives. Let us surrender our lives to him again because  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46). So let us trust the Lord and not be afraid to talk about God’s faithfulness.

Yours in Christ,

 Rev Nutan Sandhya J. Suray

 

 

Rev Tina Swire

1st July is Canada Day.  It is marked with concerts, festivals, village fetes, family  gatherings and feasting.  It is a time of celebration, of reflecting on the gift of community and the joy of being part of it.  I am from Newfoundland and Labrador and there, 1st July is a day of remembrance and has been since World War 1.  On 1st July 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel,   780 went into battle and  68 answered the roll call in the morning.  It was a loss that the Regiment, and the Province, are still living with.  As a result King George V gave them the title Royal.  This was the only time such an honour was given during WW1 and , and only the third time in British military history that such an honour was bestowed in war time, the last time being a hundred years previous.

 1st July and 11th November felt, and still do feel, very much the same in my home Province.  They are days of reflection, community gathering and remembering.  The interesting bit occurred when we joined Canada in 1949, when a day of remembering met a day of celebration.  Even as a child I could feel the tension.  In the morning we would gather at our local cenotaph and remember, and in the afternoon there would be family parties and BBQ’s and I never knew if it was supposed to feel sad or happy.  And then it came to me.  You cannot celebrate fully unless you remember.  You cannot fully give thanks for the privileges until you remember the cost and responsibility.  1st July has been a day of both for me ever since.

 As Christians we are called to be people of manger, cross and empty tomb.  A faith with no cross is lessened in its life changing, in justice challenging, gracious power.  A faith without an empty tomb is without hope.  It is when we live a faith of cross and empty tomb that we touch the manger, the incarnation, the truth that in all our joys and struggles, in all our moments of life, Christ dances in our midst and hallows them.

 I pray you will have a blessed summer.  If you are holidaying, may it be restorative.  If you are working may it be of meaning and purpose.  Whatever the summer holds for you, embrace a faith of manger, cross and empty tomb and know we are not alone.

 Thanks be to God,

 

 Rev Tina Swire

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Once, when I was asked to explain what I did, somebody misheard and thought I said I was a Beacon in the Methodist Church (instead of Deacon)  

Perhaps there is some truth in the mistake although sometimes I see myself more as the lens through which God’s light shines, rather than the source of that light itself even though Jesus talked about his followers being ‘The light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14) 

Keeping the ‘lens’ clear so that it magnifies the light rather than dims it is a challenge for all Christians and Methodist Deacons live by a ‘Rule of Life’ which sets out a framework for this.

 Rule of Life

 As a widely dispersed community, deacons are united through their common Rule of Life. The Rule is not compulsory, but it is hoped that it will be freely followed and adapted to each deacon's lifestyle. It provides a framework for the hectic rhythm of everyday life and may become a blessing and a joy, bringing glory to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

 

Devotional Life

We endeavour to: 

Attend worship regularly, especially Holy Communion.

Set aside time each day to read the Bible devotionally and to pray, including a time of intercession for members of the Order.

Regularly set aside time for self-examination, a chance to look back and see where we have failed in loving God and our neighbours and to give thanks for blessings received.

Find a spiritual director/companion, who will accompany, help and affirm us, and make time each year for a Retreat or Quiet Day.

 Discipline

We endeavour to: 

Be sensitive to the needs of those close to us, our families, dependents and friends.

Be aware of and relate to, the community in which we live.

Acknowledge and enjoy God's gifts to us of time, talents, money and possessions and through God's grace be able stewards of these.

Order the rhythm of each day, month and year, to allow for study and relaxation, weekly day off, regular holiday.

Attend Convocation (Annual national Deacons conference)

Participate in the life of area groups wherever possible and attend meetings.

Keep in contact with other members of the Order by giving or receiving of fellowship and support, by visits, letter or telephone.

 

I include it here because I believe there are elements of it (Setting aside the specifically Diaconal parts, eg Convocation) which are relevant for all Christians everywhere, recognising that all of this is only achievable through God’s grace.

Maybe you would want to adopt it or it might inspire you to create your own ‘Rule of Life’.

Every Blessing  Deacon Richard Beckett

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‘When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "It is finished!" Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.’

The cross was the goal of Jesus from the very beginning. His birth was so there would be His death. The incarnation was for our atonement. He was born to die so that we might live. And when He had accomplished the purpose He had come to fulfil, He summed it up with a single word: "finished."

In the original Greek, it was a common word. Jesus probably used it after He finished a project that He and Joseph might have been working on together in the carpentry shop. Jesus might have turned to Joseph and said, "Finished. Now let's go have lunch." It is finished. Mission accomplished. It is done.

So what was finished? Finished and completed were the horrendous sufferings of Christ. Never again would He experience pain at the hand of wicked men. Never again would He have to bear the sins of the world. Never again would He, even for a moment, be forsaken of God. That was completed. That was taken care of.

Also finished was Satan's stronghold on humanity. Jesus came to deal a decisive blow against the devil and his demons at the cross of Calvary. Hebrews 2:14 says, "Only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death." This means that we no longer have to be under the power of sin. Because of Jesus' accomplishment at the cross, finished was the stronghold of Satan on humanity.

And lastly, finished was our salvation. It is completed. It is done. All of our sins were transferred to Jesus when He hung on the cross. His righteousness was transferred to our account.

So Jesus cried out the words, "It is finished!" It was God's deliberate and well-thought-out plan. It is finished—so rejoice!

Reverend Martin Swan


 
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 Dear Friends,

We are living in the resurrection days of the Easter season and I want to remind you that the resurrection makes all the difference!

In some ways it is easier to speak of the great sacrifice and death of Jesus.  It is extraordinary, but it need not be seen as supernatural if you really don’t want to.  People will probably listen if you want to talk about Jesus as a good, even a great moral teacher, and may even be persuaded to acknowledge a sad and horrible, yet sacrificial death.  But that is not the end of the story, there is a very definite “to be continued”attached to the end of Good Friday.

On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, and the resurrection changes everything!  Jesus being raised from the dead cannot be anything else but supernatural and miraculous.  Jesus was raised bodily, he wasn’t just a spirit; they touched him; he ate with them; the physical nature of it is what makes it resurrection and changes defeat into victory.  The resurrection is the heart of Christian belief. Without it Good Friday isn’t good and our faith makes no sense.  The resurrection changes everything.

Beforehand, as they journeyed toward Jerusalem I think the disciples felt increasing confusion and shared Jesus’own heaviness of heart.  Then with Jesus having been executed they must have been very fearful and grief stricken.  But then before they’d had a chance to come to terms with all of that, first Mary, and then Peter and John discovered that the tomb was empty.  The disciples left, but Mary waited at the tomb and Jesus appeared to her in her grief and you can see it, hear it, feel it; what a difference! She will not be swayed in her testimony to the risen Lord.

The resurrection changes everything!

The disciples each in turn found this as Jesus appeared to them.  It was their utter conviction of the truth of the resurrection, empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that changed the world.  No one could change their minds. They were totally convinced.

Too easily we allow Christianity and ourselves to be pressed back into the good moral teaching, “one faith among many”, that our culture would very much prefer and makes it feel so much more comfortable.  But Christianity is different: the resurrection changes everything.

I believe we need to talk far more often about the resurrection.  If we feel need of an excuse then remember that Easter is a whole season lasting more than a month, but really we need to talk about it all year round. We can share our own experience of the risen, living Lord Jesus in our own lives and situations.  We can also live with the conviction that knowing Jesus and the empowering of his Holy Spirit brings in our hearts. We must ever keep before us the truth that the resurrection changes everything!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  1 Peter 1:4

Blessings in the name of our risen Lord,

 

Rev Phil Snelson

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Dear Friends,

What is Easter all about?

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen!” Luke 24: 5-6

At the end of a 40 day period of Lent Christians celebrate Easter. Easter is not as popular a festival as Christmas and there is an ever decreasing knowledge about it. So what is Easter all about? It is certainly not about chocolate eggs or about chocolate rabbits. Though some would think that they are way more interesting than JESUS rising from the dead and they are enough to make Easter fun.  And fun it is for children perhaps. Although Easter hasn't got to the point of having as many consumer and cultural distractions as Christmas, sometimes it's the same way for adults; lilies and new clothes and family visits and Easter dinner preparations consume our attention. Easter is about a GOD who became a human, who lived an ordinary life but did extraordinary things – just so that God will show the depth of his love to the world.

Some Christians cannot wait for the season of Lent to be over, and some in fact find it strenuous. The reason is that the Lenten period portrays or used to portray a gloomy time. In India, Christian tradition for the Lenten period is that no celebrations can take place in church and in families because it is a period of quiet reflection, fasting and prayer. But my experience is that if we are in constant touch with Jesus, if we make time to speak with him daily and if we let the Holy Spirit refresh our souls regularly, then we have no reason to be ever gloomy, Lent or otherwise. Jesus died so that we may have life to the ‘full’. So Easter is about LIFE – not ordinary life but abundant life which is full of joy and love and also an everlasting life.

So thank God for Jesus who died for all the humanity and was raised again. Halleluiah! Some people find it difficult to believe that Jesus truly became alive on the third day. What about the disciples and the women who were with Jesus all the while he was ‘touring’ the country – preaching, healing and even raising the dead (Luke 8: 51-56)? Besides, he had told his disciples repeatedly about his torture, death in Jerusalem and about his resurrection (Luke 9: 22, 44; 18: 31-33). So what did they do? Well, they looked for him in a tomb among the dead. But Jesus is risen! He is alive! He reigns in the hearts of those who believe in him. So Easter is the knowledge that death is not the END because Jesus has victory over death.

How did Disciples know that Jesus was alive? Obviously they did not believe Jesus that he would rise from the dead. They believed it only after Jesus appeared to them and showed them his scars. As Jesus had promised the power of the Holy Spirit was given to them at Pentecost in Jerusalem. So Easter is about POWER that raised Jesus from the dead. The same power can raise you from despair, and that same power is calling you by name and is still at work doing a new thing in you and in the church and in the world!

Rev Nutan Suray

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‘Jesus is for life not just for Christmas!’ – So said a sticker on a car, a different take on the ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’.

I am writing this on the day after the church celebrates the Feast of Epiphany (6th Jan) when traditionally, Western Christians celebrate the visitation of the Magi to the Baby Jesus but by the time you read this it may already be February and the events of Christmas may be well and truly packed away for another year along with the decorations.  However, Epiphany reminds us of a number of the lasting features of Christmas; firstly the visitation of people you might least expect to visit a new born baby and secondly the unusual gifts presented. These gifts (Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh) could get lost or stolen or wear out but each have strong symbolism and say something about Jesus’ kingship, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection.
It is this symbolism and truth which lives on long after the gifts themselves are given and received.

It may be that during the season of Christmas this year some of you had to make sacrifices or do things which you did not expect to do perhaps due to illness or unforeseen circumstances and as a result you gave a gift of time or patience or perseverance. It is often difficult to see things in this way, especially when these gifts are not recognised when given or are received with little or no thanks and amount to a significant sacrifice on our part. But the gifts we give of this sort are far longer lasting than those things which might wear out, be lost or stolen.

So while this might seem like an excuse for me to write a belated Christmas message, it is really another opportunity to remind you of the symbolism behind the gifts of the Magi and God’s gift to us which with a giant leap of understanding takes us to Paul’s words in Romans:

‘……but God's free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23)

It is from the ‘head and heart’ acknowledgement of this gift of eternal life in Jesus that all of our gifts must spring. This was expressed perfectly for me recently by something said on a radio programme (Apologies for not remembering who said it) but I leave the words with you:

Treat every day as a gift from God – how you use it is your gift to Him.

 

Deacon Richard Beckett
February 2013
Rev Tina Swire

Recently, I received an email  from  a woman in Gower Street United  Church in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador,  reminding me that in 2015, the province would be celebrating 200 years of Methodism.

 It gave me cause to pause and reflect.  I am here because even before that, a man named Lawrence Coughlan, a contemporary of the Wesleys, brought the energy, the faithfulness and sense of social justice, of Methodism, to my shores.  It inspired a beleaguered fishing people to believe in themselves and trust that they were not alone.  Economic systems might keep them bent over, but Christ wanted them to stand tall.  And a people believed and trusted in God and gave thanks.

 It is a story which is of my past.  Your stories are my present.  I rejoice when the Saints win and commiserate when they do not.  The Cobblers are a constant source of interest and concern.  I pray for your joys and hurts and for the wisdom and grace to be present in it all.

 We are a people who forge relationships in story, nurture them in story, honour them in story.  In telling our stories, loved ones still dance in our midst.  And we know that we are not alone.

 All our stories are held in the hands of the one who creates, redeems and sustains. They find a place in the story of Christ, whose life death and life again is life and hope for us.  For us, it is to trust that we are held and affirmed and understood, and then to live lives worthy of such truth.

 As we embrace the Covenant once again, we offer ourselves to live this way, trusting in God’s grace.  It may take us far away from home as it did Coughlan.  Indeed, it may even bring us back to the land of our ancestors, as it did with me.  It may take us somewhere in between.  But in all things, we will find home, for wherever we go, whatever we do, if we trust in this living God, we will touch home. It is to trust that God Emmanuel is with us at the start of the day, at the end of the day and in all moments within it.

 Our ministry and mission then is to live God’s justice and righteousness, love, hope, joy and peace, in all the days of our lives, wherever that will take us.  We are called to live it within our chapels, our circuit, connexion and world, for such love is not for ourselves alone.  In the stories of Christ that we tell, and live, we pray that others will come to know the hope of Christ and live full and hope filled lives.

 For the trust is this.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God. 

 

 Rev Tina Swire

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John Chapter 1:14

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son.

 
 

In John’s Gospel there is no description of Jesus’ birth but instead an extraordinary prologue in which John reflects on the real meaning of His coming.  And John makes an awesome statement, when he says ‘The Word became flesh (human) and lived here among us’

He says too that, ‘Although the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him when He came.

Christmas is a time when we in the church should help our society to recognise the true identity of the Christ child
  Some children were asked the question, "What is God like?" Ashley, age 10, said, "God is like a never-ending story that you want to read again and again. When I hear about Him, I want to know more. Although I can't see Him, I feel Him. He is perfect and pure. I know He has felt pain and has suffered greatly to take away my sins."

Adrian, age 8, said, "God is cool. Awesome. Powerful. Nice. Big. Huge. Wonderful. Loving. Exciting. Caring. Giving. And the best."

But I think Caleb, age 10, had the best answer. He said, "God is like Jesus, because God is Jesus."  If you want to know what God is like, then take a long look at Jesus, because Jesus was God in human form.

So as we in the Circuit prepare to celebrate the Christmas story again with our familiar rituals of services, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that there has never been a man who strode across the human stage quite like Jesus. He stands apart from all others. And because of Him, we have access to God. C. S. Lewis summed it up beautifully when he said, "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God."

Have a wonderful Christ centred Christmas

 
Reverend Martin Swan


 
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I wonder how you’re feeling about life at the moment? There are all sorts of things that come our way in life to make us feel down, especially in these difficult days.  Yet our Christian faith tells us that we should praise God and be thankful to Him.  That can be hard.  That’s one of the reasons I like the Psalms.

Why my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

For example, if you look at Psalm 42 it is an open sharing of struggle with life and it show us that it is ok, it is good, it is right, to be honest with God.  We can share our difficulty with Him, He can take it.  Actually, when we're being honest with God, we're being honest with ourselves and then God can help us with the reality of the situation.  The surprising thing is that at this point where every instinct and those around are questioning “So where is your God?!” the writer says ‘Yet I will praise the Lord.’  It happens twice in this Psalm but it is characteristic of many particularly in book 2 (from Psalm 42-72).  There is a deliberate choice about it, a sense of “in spite of my feelings” I choose to Praise God.  But is that just about plain grit and determination to “tough it out” or is there more to it?

Of course we owe praise to God simply because of He is God, but actually praising Him helps us.  Sometimes we can feel very “downcast” with life. What the Psalmist found is that praise changes our perspective, makes our outlook more positive and renews our hope and faith in God. Praising God means that we focus on Him and not therefore on ourselves.  It helps put our circumstances into perspective.  As we remind ourselves who God is, that he is Saviour, he is King, and therefore in control of all circumstances, our feelings, our spirits lift, we get the right perspective on things and we are encouraged to trust Him, even if we don't understand why things are happening the way they are at the moment.  It is not that “our problems disappear” but that remembering who God is and the good He has done for us raises our faith to meet the current situation or circumstance.

The Apostle Paul says: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do all things through [Christ] who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12-13

No matter what happens, keep praising,!

 
Your in Christ,
 

Rev Phil Snelson

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My name Nutan Sandhya means ‘dusk’ of the new year day as I was born on 1st of January, thus, Nutan literally meaning ‘new’. When I think of new places and people, their hopes and aspirations, they challenge me to trust God. Hence ‘newness’ brings several kinds of emotions and feelings of known and the unknown as I grow as a  disciple of Jesus. 

New Beginning is special for me because I know that I am not alone but God is with me to guide with his wisdom and give me his strength to be what I am today. As I enter into the new Methodist year from September, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness that has not failed me thus far and His compassion that is fresh every morning. Personally, at this time of the year, I like to renew my promises with God to do all things that will bring glory and honour to HIS name. One of the readings for the covenant Service tells us of people’s promises to God, “We will do everything the LORD has said: we will obey” (Exodus 25:7). The Israelites made this response after they heard Moses read the book of the Covenant. To be able to know God’s will we need to read his word daily and listen for His voice. This does not mean that we will literally hear voices. But we know when God is talking to us.

So every New Beginning encourages me to know that God never lets me down. We also need to understand the Lord’s will in order to be obedient. Therefore as a Northampton circuit, whatever our aspirations and hopes are, may we all be united in saying, “We will do everything the LORD has said: we will obey”. May the LORD God be our guide, strength and wisdom for this new Methodist year so that we are fully convinced of HIS love and care.

Yours in Christ,

 Rev.  Nutan S. J. Suray

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I have stood in a queue at a shop counter where there has been a mixed age group of people waiting to be served and so often I notice that it is the children or young people in the queue who are looked at suspiciously or even ignored all together and the adults are served first.  And those notices I sometimes see at the shop entrance which say ‘Only 2 school children at a time please’ annoy me too!

I wonder how much of this subtle form of discrimination and stereotyping sometimes filters through into the lives of our churches too, in the way that we marginalise or separate children’s work from the rest of the work of the church?

 What does Jesus statement in Matthew chapter 18 verse 3 say to us about this treatment of children and the recognition that we are all children of God in the sense of being open and ready to receive the Kingdom of Heaven? (“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”)

 During my first year in the Circuit I have enjoyed visiting some of the 30 or so groups meeting in our Circuit churches for children and young people. This on-going work is something to be really thrilled about and a real credit to the hard work of so many dedicated people.

 Between September this year and next February, those of you involved with the life of our Methodist congregations will have an opportunity to share in exploring together the Policy for Children and Young people whose opening statement begins: 

 “This model of Children’s ministry is underpinned by children and young people connected with God, each other and the world. Enabling them to think as disciples, talk as disciples and be disciples. This view of Ministry with children and young people is not one from the perspective of empty vessels to be filled but one of nurture.”

 The Policy goes on to talk about the beliefs on which the statement is based:

  • Children and young people are equal partners with adults in the life of the church.

  • Learning is for the whole church.

  • Mission and Ministry is for and with children and young people as well as adults.

  • The call to evangelism comes at whatever age. 

  • The concept of priesthood of all believers includes children and young people. 

  • The Holy Spirit works through children and young people as well as adults. 

You might like to think about these statements and I hope that as many of you as possible will be able to come to a session exploring these at your church - look out for the date in your church notices and diaries - this is intended to be for the whole congregation, not just those who work with children and young people, so that together we can celebrate the unique gifts which children and young people bring to the growth of God’s Kingdom in Northampton.

 Deacon Richard Beckett

Sept 2012

Rev Tina Swire

Dear Friends,

During the Conference in which I was ordained, we ‘newbies’ met with the elder stateswomen and men of the church.  We shared our dreams and hopes and fears and they shared their years of insights and experiences.  I was struck then by their faithfulness, commitment, humour and grace.  But then  I thought, “What am I getting myself into?  I could never be like that.”

 This year marks my twentieth year in ministry and yes, I was two when I was ordained.  The thought came to me on Pentecost Sunday as I remembered when I took my vows all those years ago,                   “blimey, I’m an elder stateswoman now”

 I have few words of wisdom because I am still learning and growing and messing up and in need of grace and forgiveness.   In all things, I trust in God and seek to honour the vows I made that day with integrity, grace and humility.   And so I journey on, in faith. 

 What I do have is an inukshuk.  It is the representation of a human figure made of stone, made by the First Nations people of the northern and artic regions of Canada.  The actual ones are huge, many feet tall, to be seen at great distances.    The word has no direct English translation but means this is your guidepost.  You are not alone.  You are on the right path.  This is a safe and good place to be.  Others go with you.  Others have been on this path.  You are not lost.

 My small inukshuk sits in my prayer station as I and many Christians in the north, understand that is who Christ is for us.   Christ guides, protects, shows the way and is the way.  We are not alone.

And so my vows have taken me to a community shaken by the cod moratorium, another community which welcomed the world on 9/11, and another, a land of ulus and inukshuks.  It brought me here to the UK, and eventually, to the gift of Northampton.  

 And so it is a joy that I celebrate 20 years of journeying.  Since coming here, I have had the honour of ministering with Philip (Taylor) and pray God’s blessing as he travels on.  We welcome Nutan (Suray) into our midst and all the gifts and graces she brings.    

 We embrace and receive with hope and trembling because we are not alone.  We trust in Christ, who will not let us drift or become lost.  

 May God’s blessings be always with you.

 

Rev Tina Swire

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I am often asked ‘what does the word spirituality actually mean?’  That’s a good question to ponder in a world where there is a vast market place of spiritual directions on offer.  I believe that at the very centre of Christian spirituality is our understanding of love.  Love is the origin of what it means to be Christian.  Christian spirituality grows and develops under the concept of love.  A Christian cannot claim that he or she is spiritual if they have no love for their brothers and sisters.

The love of God and the love for each other is and should be all one thing.

So often in my own spiritual walk, many hymns and songs have had a great influence upon me.  One such is the great hymn of Charles Wesley. ‘Love divine all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down ’  When we consider the words of this hymn, we will see that when we begin to love one another in this fashion, then we begin to be thankful for one another.

Spiritually we will grow both as individuals and as a circuit.  God’s love is concerned for all humanity.  Our spiritual journey should reflect this and our spiritual journey must be deeply rooted in love.  For me St. Paul’s words written to the Philippian church is a wonderful example of Christian prayer both of praise to God and thankfulness for other people. ‘I thank my God for you every time I think of you, and every time I pray for you……….’

I wonder when was the last time we prayed for others in our circuit of churches that God’s love would overwhelm them?

Keep on loving

Reverend Martin Swan



 

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 By now plans will be taking shape and final preparation being made for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  The word jubilee has a sense of celebration about it and we can truly celebrate that we have a Christian Queen who has reigned so long and so faithfully.

 Jubilee also carries with it a sense of justice and a right balance restored.  The concept is tucked away in Leviticus 25 in the Old Testament.  God instructed Israel to give the land a Sabbath rest from cultivation every seventh year and they would live off whatever happened to grow (God provided).  And then after seven lots of seven years, in the fiftieth year there was to be a Sabbath of Sabbaths, when not just the land was rested but debts were completely written-off, property returned to its original owners and slaves were set free.  Easy to see then how the campaign to cancel the debt of the Third World became known as Jubilee 2000. The whole concept is full of generosity, grace and forgiveness - Yes! Even in the Old Testament God was an advocate of generosity, grace and forgiveness!

 Sadly there is no evidence that Israel ever put the Jubilee into practice - what an adventure of living by faith in God it could have been!  And in these days of financial crisis, when whole nations are running up colossal debts of amounts beyond comprehension, the idea of clearing it all down and starting again has a certain appeal - however impractical economic experts and "the world" might think it… and let's face it, if we're honest, the way it's all going at the moment doesn't really seem all that practical or realistic either.

 I know these are difficult days where we ourselves and those around us are struggling with shortage of income and unemployment but I think it is in times such as this that we are called, more than ever, to live as people of God's jubilee with generosity, grace and forgiveness, truly trusting in God to provide beyond what resources we ourselves have - and I don't mean just money and possessions. In Philippians 4 Paul writes:

 I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content... The secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4)

 He is not gritting his teeth, he has been writing about rejoicing, or we could say, his words are full of jubilee faith.  

 So my appeal and my encouragement to you as our communities and neighbourhoods celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, is to be God's jubilee people, involving ourselves and bringing the "salt" of the Lord's generosity, grace and forgiveness wherever we go and to whomever we meet.

 Your in Christ,

 

Rev Phil Snelson

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Dying to Live

 I am writing this letter on the Wednesday of Holy Week, in the midst of leading services reflecting on Jesus’ final days as the shadow of the cross looms ever larger and the death of Jesus is the inevitable outcome. At the same time I am in the middle of preparing the services I will lead on Easter Day and the following Sunday when we shall with joy and gladness celebrate the resurrection life that conquers death. It is an interesting contrast to live with but it is also a powerful reminder that the two are intimately bound together in the Christian understanding. Put quite simply we cannot have resurrection without first there being death. Jesus had to die before he could be raised from the dead, without his death there could be no resurrection.
 
That truth was also firmly reinforced when a few days ago I read an article, in “Reform”, the monthly magazine of the United Reformed Church, written by John Bradbury who teaches at Westminster College, Cambridge. In it he was challenging the Church to truly face up to the radical message of Easter in recognising that it has to die in order to experience resurrection. He raises questions such as, what if the church is being called to die? Could God be at work in our decline and as our institutions face their demise? 
Then a little later he asks the readers to think about what would happen if our faith in resurrection was strong enough that we could embrace the institutional death of the church? Could we live that way and if we did what would happen?
 
These are challenging questions which have particular force as I read them again in Holy Week. For if we are not prepared to face them what price the faith we proclaim at Easter, that dying we live. Does our experience of God lead us to believe it is true, so true that we are prepared to live in a way that is not fearful of death either individually or institutionally? The temptation is always to hold on to what we have, to believe that any kind of existence must be better than death, when our faith teaches us that death is not the final word.
 
That is something that I also know from my own experience. Exactly a week after I wrote my last minister’s letter, in early November, my own Mum died. She had been diagnosed with cancer three years earlier and we knew that she was entering the last stage of her life a month or so earlier. My Mum also had dementia that meant that in many ways we had lost the person we had known and loved a long time before she actually died. On the day of her death and in the weeks that followed I was aware of her being present to us in the way that she had formerly been. Her death enabled me to recall her as the whole person that she had been years before and to be alive in a way that was unencumbered by her illness of recent years. It was a reminder of the faith that I have sought to live by and to proclaim.
 
John Bradley concludes his article by encouraging us no longer to say that dying is bad but rather to recognise that it is gospel-shaped. My own reflection is that if we want to experience resurrection life there is no short cut that bypasses death. That we cannot jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Day and bypass the cross and the journey to it. It is a journey that we have to continually remake both individually and as a Christian community. I pray that God will give us all the courage and the faith to make the journey whether we are staying in the Northampton Circuit or in my case moving to Derbyshire. That we might all come to know and accept that it is by dying that we live.
 
God bless,
 
Phil Taylor

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Soon after we moved to Northampton I developed a very good excuse for not starting work on the gardening too quickly.  Admittedly there are some plans for the garden but when it comes to planting (Alison is the expert – not me!) my delaying tactics are based on the following:

 “Don’t be too eager to dig until you know what was planted previously”

 And already the theory is proving its worth as we are beginning to look forward to the spring flowers which are showing signs of life, judging by the number of green shoots appearing here and there.

 I like to think I can apply the theory to other areas of life too. I suppose it is another way of saying ‘wait’, or don’t jump in too quickly.

 We can apply this to our relationships with people. Often I find myself in conversation with someone and have not really been listening to what they were saying, instead I find myself preparing what I am going to say next. Of course if I really listen to what the other person is saying there is always the danger I might forget what I was going to say – but maybe that would not be such a bad thing after all!

 There is a great deal of ‘fertile soil’ available if only we can find ways of giving people the opportunity to ask the questions they need to ask. This sort of conversation takes time and patience and requires that we wait for other people to tell us where they are at, before we make our own assumptions.

 I am often struck by the way in which Jesus responded to people in need and recall especially the occasion when a blind man, (Bartimaeus) sat at the road side calling out “Jesus! Son of David! Take pity on me!”

Other people around told him to be quiet but Jesus stopped and called him over. Now it must have been obvious that Bartimaeus was blind but Jesus asks him a surprising question, he says, “What do you want me to do for you?”, Bartimaeus replies, “Teacher I want to see again”. 

 Jesus gave Bartimaeus the space to make a declaration of need and effectively a statement of faith in Jesus’ ability to heal him. Then Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And at once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the road. (Mark: chapter 10, verses 46 to 52)

 Many people may be further along the road towards acknowledging Jesus than we think but we won’t find that out unless we give them time to tell us.

 Happy garden watching!

  Deacon Richard Beckett

Rev Tina Swire

 Dear Friends,

 The snow started in the middle of the night.  It fell to earth softly, its feathery texture highlighted by the street lamp outside our bedroom window.  We stood, transfixed by its beauty.  The world was hushed, expectant, wondrous.  The silence was broken by the excited cries of my two nieces, who discovered that there came with such a sight the gift of day off from school, with the possibility of more.

 It transported me back to a time when I was my nieces age.  We had a snowstorm.  Back then, the power went out.  We, my parents, us four children and my mother’s parents,  had an adventure.  The wood burner was soon alight, providing heat and  cooking facilities.  Dad even dug out some antique kerosene lamps , which were wondrous in the dark of night.  We spent our days talking, laughing,  reading, sharing stories.  And it had been really good.  Even as a child, I was sad when the power came back on.

 It seems that life rushes on a pace.  And in the midst of such frantic activity, sometimes we miss what is truly important.  God often gives us the gift of slowing down and remembering whose we are and why we are, if only we would take the opportunity.

 So, I do apologize for bringing the snow back with me from my holiday back home in Canada, but it did feel almost like a benediction, a reminder that  in the midst of  life to take time just to be.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Rev Tina Swire

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I wonder if you’re among those who give up chocolate for lent, or maybe like my daughter it’ll be crisps (she does like crisps more than chocolate!) or like my son told us a few years ago he’d be giving up broccoli this year for Lent (he doesn’t like or eat broccoli!!).

Yes it’s February already and Lent is fast approaching. I find quite a lot of people give up something for Lent and why not?! Or actually I want to ask, “Why?” What are they doing it for? A lot of people I talk to don’t really seem to know except perhaps that they’re doing it as some sort of exercise in self-discipline or even hoping to be slightly healthier by the end of it. Fair enough I suppose but is that really what it’s meant to be about?

I know a lady who doesn’t give anything up for Lent, but instead does something extra (no not to do with chocolate). Usually this has been to organise a weekly lunch for the period of Lent, invite speakers to talk about aspects of Christian faith and people to come and share a simple lunch, fellowship, to listen and to reflect. I think she is pretty close to the mark.

Lent isn’t exactly Biblical but it has been part of Christian tradition from early on. To begin with it was as a period of preparation, a time of concentrated study and prayer for those who were getting ready for their baptism which would have taken place early on Easter Sunday morning celebrating the resurrection life of Jesus. And the rest of the church community joined in the preparation too, taking time to seek spiritual renewal and increasingly focus on the Easter story.

There is also perhaps an element of fasting in giving up something for Lent and fasting is about making a sacrifice to seek God more intensely, more fervently. You could say it’s about giving something else up to make more time to pray and seek God. So that’s what I encourage you to do.

If you are going to give something up for Lent, why not use the giving up as a means of prompting you to seek more of God. Every time you miss whatever you’ve given up, say a prayer instead.

If you’re not giving up something for Lent, why not choose a way to put extra effort into seeking more of God. Try taking time to seek spiritual renewal and increasingly focus on the Easter story.

God encourages us to seek Him and really does want us to discover the wonder and blessing of His presence in our lives.

Yours in Christ,

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD… 

Jeremiah 29:13

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The Christmas celebrations are all over for another year.  We have had our presents.  We enjoyed the get together with friends and loved ones. And now it is 3:00 A.M., the house is quiet, your family are asleep, it is warm, but it is dark, and you should be asleep too. However, your mind is racing, your heart is pounding, and worries are overwhelming.You might be thinking about the pressing needs of a tomorrow that will find you unprepared, or it may be an area of concern—financial (the presents have to be paid for now), relational (should never have argued with uncle Burt about the turkey), or employment.

You may even continually find yourself in a place where you are out of hope and out of peace. A place that points to a spiritual separation from God that leaves you vulnerable and open to attacks of anxiety from the enemy. There is something about this part of the night that seems to magnify all of these problems, and I am not sure exactly why that is. Maybe that is why the psalmist said "He guards us from the flaming arrows at night."

I am convinced that we need God's help, not only when we are alert and awake, but even when we are sleeping. As you get ready to go to sleep, I think that it is a great thing to end the day in prayer. It has been said that God works the nightshift, and it is so true.

The best place to start is back at the beginning of each new day. Start your day in prayer, committing your decisions, your challenges, and whatever you are going to face that day to the Lord. Then, as I suggested, end your day with prayer as well. In each instance, our prayer should be, "Lord, here it is. I commit it to You." It reminds me of a quote from Martin Luther, "Pray and let God worry." I like that. Not that God worries, but the idea is that you should pray about it, rather than worry about it.


Is there something troubling you? Is there something eating away at you? Bothering you? Irritating you? Causing you to be afraid? Pray about it, right now. Just say, "Lord, I can't handle it." Philippians says, "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. The peace of God that passes all human understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."
So don't worry. Pray. You will sleep, and live, much better.

Sleep well

Reverend Martin Swan

 

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Don’t blame God for Christmas, He only sent his Son”

 By the time you read this Advent will be nearly over and Christmas will be upon us. Of course even as I write this, at the end of the first week in November, there are plenty of signs that Christmas is already upon us. Advent may be three weeks away but the shops have their Christmas displays in place hoping to encourage people to spend. After all isn’t that what Christmas is really about, the mid-winter celebration of consumerism? The opportunity for the retail sector to make big sales that will carry them through the leaner months of winter and keep them profitable. So there is no time to waste and this is no time to wait – people need to get out and spend as if there is no tomorrow. That at least has seemed to be the conventional wisdom for many years.

 But I wonder will this year be different? Will people, feeling the effects of the economic downturn, and now increasingly aware of the problems of debt, and the threat of job losses make a deliberate decision to spend less? And if they do what difference will it make to their experience of Christmas? Time will provided an answer to both those questions but as we wait to see the outcome I think there are matters that we can usefully reflect upon.

 A number of years ago the Christian singer and songwriter, Garth Hewitt, wrote a song entitled “Don’t blame God for Christmas, He only sent his Son”. It was a reflection on the experience of seeing a young woman in a shopping mall wearing a T Shirt that bore the slogan “Dear Santa, I want it all!” That slogan in many ways sums up the sort of society that we have been encouraged to become, wanting and expecting it all and believing that either we should be able to buy what we want, instantly, or even better still someone else should buy it for us. In such a mindset we are not encouraged to ask ourselves if we really need it or whether we or the environment can really afford our relentless pursuit of acquiring more stuff. After all economic survival and hence our future happiness, so we are told, depends on the economy growing and on us consuming more. It seems that for many this mindset reaches its ultimate expression in the period leading up to Christmas. So many people seem to have bought into the belief that you can only show how much you love your children, your family, your friends etc. by the amount of money you spend on them rather than by the quality of the relationships you have with them. I believe it is an understanding that needs challenging and what a wonderful opportunity we have to do so as people are increasingly asking questions about the way our economies operate and the fundamental values by which we live. Think for a moment about the encouraging conversations that are starting to take place and the issues that are beginning to be raised as a result of the worldwide “Occupy” movement, of which the gathering at St Paul’s in London is but one example.

 In that context, of a world beginning to face up to fundamental questions about what sort of society we want to live in, let us remind ourselves what we, as Christians, believe we are celebrating at Christmas. We make the startling claim that God has indeed given us it all, because God has come to be with us in Jesus. We call it the incarnation, the statement of faith that in the person of Jesus, who lived a fully human life like us, God is present with us. That is, God not holding anything back but giving all, out of love for the world, and what is more giving it for free. There can be no greater gift than that and it is rightfully a cause for celebration.

 Furthermore, if God did come to be with us in the midst of human life we need to take what happens in the world very seriously and engage with it. We need to be involved in the discussions that are starting to happen in places like those outside St Paul’s Cathedral, because they are asking the sort of questions that those who follow Jesus should be asking. That is not to say that there is any one simple answer that all Christians will be able to agree upon but it is to say that we dare not avoid asking the questions if we are serious about worshipping the God who is not distant from the world but chose to be born into it. Oh and don’t be put off by those who argue that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, just point to the birth of Jesus and tell them you are following God’s example and getting fully stuck in, in God’s world. God asks nothing less of us, if we are serious about celebrating Christmas as the birth of Jesus, God’s son, rather than as a feast of consumption and consumerism.

 May we have a thought provoking Christmas and an actively engaged New Year, for the sake of God’s world.

 Revd Phil Taylor

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Like me now you might be beginning to feel the cold as autumn sets in but every time of the year offers us something new to do. One of the things I love to do in my spare time especially at this time of year is fly kites. Chris and I have a number of different kites between us including single line, dual string stunt kites and a foil kite. We are not yet ambitious enough to have reached the level of power kiting with sand buggies but who knows – maybe one day!

As I think about the ‘unwritten rules’ of flying kites there seem to be lots of parallels with our journeys as Christians. You might like to look up some of the references and take a few of them to heart during the blustery days of autumn.

 ·  Always take time to read and carry out the instructions:

Especially if your kite is new – you will get the best out of it if you read the instructions first.
“Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to His word, instead, put it into practice” (James 1: 22)

 ·  Be good stewards of what you have:

If you pack your kite and lines away carefully after use each time they will be much easier to use next time and avoid those nasty tangles that can take hours to sort out even before you begin flying.
Then the Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it”(Gen 2:15)

 ·  Be a willing servant:

Flying kites is easier with two people. One to ‘launch’ and one to ‘fly’. The one flying often gets the credit while the ‘launch’ person often has to stand back and watch someone else’s achievements.
“The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great” (Matthew 23:11)

 ·  Work with others:

Some high hills get very busy and there needs to be a readiness to work with others and a respect for each others space to avoid ‘kite rage’.
“And now I give you a new commandment: love on another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13: 34)

 ·  Be ready when God’s Spirit moves:

Line yourself up with the wind to gain maximum lift for its direction can be unpredictable.
 “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that of everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3: 8)

 ·  Be prepared for difficult conditions:

Sun hat, sun glasses, thick coat – any of these could be needed when flying kites in the UK.
“Put on all the armour that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the devil’s evil tricks” (Ephesians 6: 11)

 ·  Look after the learners:

There will always be someone less experienced than you and there will be many opportunities to encourage and help those who have just started flying.
“Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your heart”(Colossians 3: 16)

 ·  Don’t strive too hard

If conditions are bad or you are wearing yourself out by tearing up and down the field to get your kite flying, it is probably time to stop!
“I have also learnt why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy their neighbours. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind” (Eccl 4: 4)

 

Deacon Richard Beckett   

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Greetings

I am from Newfoundland and Labrador, where every May and June, icebergs appear followed by whales.  The icebergs break off the Greenland glacier and following the Labrador Current, travel the coast of Newfoundland before they eventually melt.

They come, year in, year out, for as long as I can remember. They came for years before I was even a speck in my parents eye and will come long years into the future.

Then I married John.  The first year we went home was iceberg season and he was as excited as a little boy waiting for Father Christmas.  We have thousands of photos of icebergs from that holiday.

And then came the boat trip.  We went out on the sea looking for whales and, at a very safe distance went around an iceberg.  John marvelled at the unique blue, green, turquoise like colour that is at the centre of icebergs, heard their song, a sort of groaning of ages of ice being released into the sea, and felt the change in temperature as the wind blows off one.

I had known and experienced this all my life, to the point that I no longer saw  or marvelled at icebergs any more.  Seeing them through John’s eyes was like seeing them for the first time and feeling humbled and impressed and somehow empowered by the wonder and majesty of God’s creation.  It was like seeing on old familiar friend in a whole new light.

I wonder does that sometimes happen with the word of God?  We hear the stories, year in year out, like old familiar friends, but for the people who heard them for the first time they were fresh, exciting, unsettling.  They challenged, comforted and, changed lives.

In our time together, we will share our life stories and stories of God’s grace within them.  And in such time together, we may well find in these old familiar friends a time of seeing them as if for the first time, which is the gift and grace of God’s Holy Spirit.

May God bless and enrich our journey together.

Tina

Rev. Tina Swire

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I have to be honest, my objective as a minister has never been to have a large church; it always has been to have a biblical church and a strong church.
The growth of the church is up to God.

And we have to realise that not every church in our Circuit is going to be a large church fellowship.  However, every church in our circuit should be a growing church.

The bottom line is, that on the final day, Jesus is not going to say, "Well done, good and successful servant. By the way, how many members did you have?" Rather, He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

It seems to me that the church exists for three reasons: the exaltation of God, the edification of believers, and the evangelisation of the world (or at the very least our part of it). Another way to think of it is upward, inward, and outward.

Upward. The church exists for the exaltation of God. This idea may come as a revelation to some people who think they exist to find personal happiness. The Bible says, "Don't you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Inward. The church exists for the edification of other believers too. The apostle Paul said his goal was not merely to evangelise, but to warn believers, teach them the wisdom God had given him, and present them to God mature in their relationship with Christ and with each other (see Colossians 1:28).

Outward. The church is called to evangelise the world, which is the natural outgrowth of exalting God and edifying other believers.

Healthy sheep will actually reproduce themselves.

The church is not to emphasise one of these at the expense of the other or take them out of order. As I understand it we are not to customise the church.
We are called to follow the original template which Jesus gave us.

So I wish you all great and exciting times as you look
upwards, towards God

Inwards
as you love and help each other on the journey of faith

And
outwards, as you reach your part of the world with the good news of Christ Jesus

Blessings
Reverend Martin Swan


 

maureenAs you read this I will be coming to the end of a cathartic process of clearing out in preparation for my move to North Fylde, I will be getting rid of what my mum calls ‘toot’ unused or unneeded stuff that gets hoarded for all kinds of reasons. I have, over the years, helped one or two people pack up to move and I have been fascinated by what they keep and what they throw away and how that sheds light on them and their lifestyle.

I would not consider myself a hoarder and as I move every five years that is a good thing, nevertheless, I do seem to accumulate a lot of ‘toot’. Deciding what is or is not ‘toot’ can be quite complex. For me it seems to come in about 3 categories: first, stuff I have sentimental attachment to-  things that remind me of good times, successful ventures, challenges overcome, in good years that can come to quite a lot of stuff in other years not so much and I try to be a bit selective, at 54 I’m on my second memory box which is not yet full. The second category is things that might come in handy; for me this covers visual aids or things that might become visual aid, courses or material I have written and practical household objects, the trouble with this stuff is you have to find places to store it and a system for locating it when you need it. As a young mum I came across a book called ‘freedom from clutter’ which suggested that unused but hoarded stuff doesn’t just clutter up houses but also clutters up the mind to because you have to keep track of it, look after it and maintain it!  And the third category is things that I don’t know what to do with; things I’ve never needed but I might need if.....

Our lives, like our homes, can accumulate ‘toot’ too both intentionally and unintentionally, sentimental things, things that could be useful and things we don’t know what to do with, things that accumulate and sometime so much and so many  that we don’t have time or room for other things or people these can take the form of memories, habits, activities and attitudes, when Jesus sent his friends out (Luke chapters 9 and 10) to tell the good news he wanted them unencumbered, free to both give and receive wherever they went, they went as they were trusting God to provide all they needed, travelling light.

I am hoping to travel light this summer taking with me memories and experiences that might assist me and letting of those that will only hamper and confine me, we all need a clear out from time to time to look at whether our collecting habits are getting out of hand, is it time for you to do that this summer so that you can travel light into the future?

Deacon Maureen Spinks

 

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In Galatians chapter 4 and verses 4-5 we find these words
 "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

There are many people who are really keen in researching their family tree. I think some are perhaps hoping they maybe related to someone important, perhaps an historical figure or a member of a royal family. However, I think we need to be careful, for sometimes we find out things we wish we had not known. Knowing some of my relatives, I think I will leave well alone. I don’t want to discover some notorious character or other in my family tree.

However, we may be surprised to know that the family tree of Jesus Christ was one of the most messed-up family trees of all time. Recorded for us in Matthew Chapter 1 and Luke Chapter 3, it included prostitutes, cheats, adulterers, liars, and even a murderer. Yet we have to remember that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and that includes genealogies. And in the genealogy of Jesus, we find the Grace of God firmly on display.

Normally, Jewish genealogies and the recording of family trees did not include women. But in Matthew's genealogy, we find five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course, Mary.

I think what is fascinating about these women is that in the most exclusive genealogy in history, we find that several of them were immoral. (don’t get smug boys the men recorded there were not much better!!!!) This of course reminds us that Jesus came to heal broken lives and to restore shattered hopes.

Galatians Chapter 4 reminds us that Jesus has redeemed us, which means He has given us our freedom. That is what Jesus did for us. God gives second chances. And He can redeem the mess we make of our lives.

And so as we continue our journey of faith in our Circuit of churches, and as we seek to reach out to others with the arms of love, let us remember too that God really is the God of second chances. No matter how far we feel at times from our father’s love, we can rejoice that through Jesus we are part of the genealogy of God.  We are all members of His family tree.

Every Blessing to you all

Reverend Martin Swan

 

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“Facing Difficult Questions”

I am writing this letter on the 5th May, the day that people are going out to the polling stations to elect Councillors to represent them for the next four years and to vote on the electoral system that we will use to elect our Members of Parliament in the next General Election. It is a day of decision whose outcome will be known by the time you read this letter. The votes that people have cast will have an impact on our local community and it is right that we should pray for, and work with, those who are elected to office so that together we can engage in building communities in which all people can flourish and fulfil their potential as children of God. That, I hope we can all agree upon regardless of our political affiliation.

I knew that I would be writing this letter on this particular day – deadlines and my own diary commitments meant that it was going to be now or too late! I therefore thought that I would reflect a little further on our responsibility to live as Christian citizens playing a full part in our communities. However other events that happened at the beginning of this week mean that my thoughts also have another focus.

On Monday morning we woke to the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead, killed in an American military operation. Nearly ten years after the events of 9/11 he had been tracked down to house in Pakistan, shot dead and his body hastily disposed of in a burial at sea. I have to admit to feeling very uneasy at the scenes of triumphant celebration being played out from the USA. As a pacifist I utterly reject the actions of violence and murder that Bin Laden orchestrated around the world but I was troubled by the similarities that the scenes of jubilation bore to those witnessed in some parts of the world following the events of 9/11. It caused me to ponder the uncomfortable question as to how different we actually are to those who commit acts of terrorism.

Also on Monday another item of news emerged as it was reported that a family of four had been found dead in their home in Northampton. During the course of the evening we discovered that we knew one of the victims, Xing Ding, who had been in our son Jonathan’s class, at Lower School. The horror of the unfolding story had an even more personal feel because we knew from our own experience that the world had lost an intelligent and caring young woman in such a tragic way. In the days that have passed it seems as though they were all killed by one man who was known to the family.

Faced with both events I am left pondering again the question that came to me after 9/11, what could cause a person like me to commit such acts of violence and atrocity towards another human being? And for me that is the question that needs to be faced. It would be too easy for me to say that people who do such things are not human, that they are pure evil, that they are fundamentally different to me. But the fact remains that like me they were born as a baby and at some time in the future they, and I, will face the physical reality of death. Between those two events we have a life to live that will impact on those around us for good or ill. In some cases which it is will be very evident but I am very aware that the lifestyle that I lead as I consume the world’s resources to maintain the standard of living that I have come to expect in our consumerist society in its own way contributes to the poverty and yes even the premature death of those living in other parts of the world. So am I so different to those who commit acts of violence in an overt way? It is not a comfortable question to face but I think that I would be dishonest if I tried to avoid it.

I do not have any easy answers to the questions but I think that facing them honestly is important and the only way that we can discover what it is to be truly human and hence children of God. In the end I am aware that I am totally reliant on the grace of God to help me live in such a way that allows others to flourish and relationships and society to be enriched. I believe in God who tackled the reality of evil and broken relationships not by the use of violent force but by accepting crucifixion. In a God who is at work through death and resurrection. So I do have hope, even in the face of the most atrocious things that we human beings do to one another, that there is another way to live. A way of living that is based on the love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.

So I pray that God may give us all the grace to live honestly with the difficult questions that life throws up at us, trusting that death and destruction is not the final word. I also pray that the experience of God’s love will sustain us on our journey and enable us to build communities in which all people have the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their potential.

 

Phil Taylor

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Dear Friends,

Good Friday April 22nd, Easter Monday April 25th, Royal Wedding April 29th, May Bank Holiday May 2nd, Spring Holiday May 30th – are we Bank Holidayed out yet?? Do you like these ‘extra’ days off, or do you associate them with traffic jams and intolerable crowds of people everywhere?

I personally see them as a bonus, a gift. Time to catch up with family who get a bit neglected the rest of the year, or chance to finally do my spring garden maintenance. Perhaps they are days of feasting and partying in your household? There’s nothing wrong with that – Jesus loved a good party, and feasted with unexpected people in his day.

I hope that they are days for you to have a break from the normal routine. If you are a ‘wage slave’, up at 6am every day, not back home until 6pm at night, it must be lovely to have a day off from that. How about a lie-in? 12 hours’ sleep (my personal favourite!) un-interrupted. Or a day of retreat, giving yourself time to pray and read the Bible in peace and quiet (is that the same as staying in bed for 12 hours?).

As I pondered this, I realised that for some of you, it will be no different from other days – a day spent alone, with just the radio or tv for company. A long day, with no expectation of any visitors.

How do we as the church respond to the different challenges that so many Bank Holidays in a few weeks present? I heard the story of a church in a rural area which realised that Boxing Day would be difficult for many elderly who lived alone in their villages. Family would not be able to visit with so much snow, it would be a long, lonely weekend for some folk. And so the church opened up as a Coffee Shop for Boxing Day, welcoming everyone in who couldn’t be with family or friends. They saw a need in their community and gathered round to meet it.

That to me is true mission – giving of ourselves for people outside our church, outside our circle of friends, and trying to meet their needs. Showing God’s love in action. To make it a God-centred activity, why not add a Songs of Praise, or a Prayer Wall for folk to put up their prayer requests?

We as the Church need to be connected to the communities in which we live, work and worship. Our doors should be open, but also our hearts, to be ready to step out towards our neighbours. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. What works in a remote village might not be right for the town centre. What matters is that we are thinking in the lines of God’s Kingdom, every day prayerfully asking ‘what do you want of me today?’ Some days it may be to rest and pray, other days to be busy in the neighbourhood. But always walking with Him. Wouldn’t that add value to our Bank Holidays!

What could you do?

Every blessing for the month of May,

Love from Glayne

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“You can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday”

One of my college tutors always used to tell me: “You can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday” and the more I experience it, the more I find she was right.  She was commenting on what can happen if people only go to church on Sunday – there is a danger we skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  It is lovely to celebrate all the symbols of new life like bunnies and eggs and flowers at Easter.  How much more wonderful a celebration to realise something of what Jesus the Christ was willing to endure to win a new life for each one of us.

As well as the chocolate eggs and the flowers there is of course the bank holiday telly.  Disney classics and other “greats” (particularly the Escape!) and in with them, hopefully, at least one telling of the Easter story – “The Robe”, “Jesus of Nazareth”, “The Greatest Story ever told”; if they decide to go for Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion” it will have to be a late showing - it is a certificate 18 due to the very realistic violence it shows.   Where other portrayals spare us the worst of the cruelty of a crucifixion, “The Passion” is a most extraordinary and graphic film.  Gibson’s version may be a bit over-the-top in places but I suspect it might well be nearer the grim reality of the pain and injury Jesus suffered.  It took some courage to watch – I confess I did look away once or twice.  Even If it’s not the sort of thing you would watch, just to begin to think about what is portrayed must surely raise questions about this Jesus.

That he existed and that Jesus was a teacher of great wisdom and worker of wondrous deeds, even that he was executed, are widely accepted facts of history.  Why was he killed is the question, and how does it affect us today?  Who was this man who has affected the whole world so much through just three years of teaching and a gruesome death in a small corner of the Roman empire 2,000 years ago?  If you haven’t investigated this carefully for yourself then you really should and I strongly encourage you to do so.

As a Christian I believe that among other things the cross shows how much God shares in all human pain, particularly how he is pained by our selfishness and by our failure to love him and each other.  When you think about it, isn’t selfishness at the root of many of the problems in our society today?  The cross also shows how passionately God loves us, that in Jesus, he was willing to go that far to deal with it.  He offers us a chance for a “clean slate”, to change from being self-centred to being God-centred and he can do that because of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection.  You see ‘you can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday’.

We could equally say that Good Friday is of no effect unless it is followed by Easter Sunday.  Jesus teaching and his claims would all be of little significance if he just died.  But through his resurrection Jesus is validated: we see that Jesus has power over death and therefore is the only one who can offer us forgiveness and hope of life after death.  Because he is alive, people still meet with him and come to know Jesus personally today.  In receiving his Spirit into our lives we can discover forgiveness and begin the process of transformation from being self-centred to becoming God-centred.  We also experience the joy and the challenge of a living relationship with the Living God and hope for the future in eternal life.

I recommend that you explore the deep significance of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  If not through “The Passion” then immerse yourself in the Bible stories themselves, and perhaps other devotional material, maybe through “The Book of God” (the Bible as a novel).  I pray that your Easter Sunday celebrations will be all the more full of joy and excitement as you realise afresh the depth of the love the Living God has for you.

Rev. Phil Snelson

 

maureenYou might have noticed, I hope you have, that as a Circuit we are focusing on encouraging and developing mission and evangelism in our Church and Circuit life this year. Trying to shape both our Circuit and Church life to be more effective in helping others discovered Jesus.

Jesus knew all about the business of strategic planning; his Father’s, his own and those of other people. Yet while he always moved forward to fulfil God's strategic plan and His part in it, he also always took time to stop, listen and share. Many of the miracles he performed, many of the acts of kindness happened because he was willing to lay aside his plans and act on the spur of the moment. Every moment for him was precious even those spent going from A to B. We sometimes get so involved in forward planning we fail to live in today!

We miss out on opportunities to listen, to share, to make this moment special, to create a significant moment out of what is happening now. Every day events and meetings can be made special by the attention we give them and especially the people in them. God is interested in every moment of our lives not just the outcome, not just what we will become, what we are and how we treat others now is important.

The trouble is it is quite hard to stay focused on living in God's here and now without help. We need a constant challenge to our words, attitudes, lifestyle and actions. Without time set aside with others to consider how we might grow in our Christian lives, how we might practice our faith more faithfully we soon get either complacent or too busy to do the kind of reflection needed.

Our founder Wesley knew that which is why he encouraged disciples to meet regularly together in small groups of three (bands) if they were really serious in progressing in their discipleship or in larger groups (class meetings). These meetings were designed to encourage men and women to frequently examine their lifestyle, behaviour and attitudes so that they could grow closer to God and live out their discipleship in very real ways in the world.

As someone who spent all of her formative Christian years right up until the point of going out into ordained ministry in a weekly house group or fellowship group I miss the challenge and encouragement that they provided. From time to time over the last 15 years of ordained ministry I have experienced periods where that level of fellowship, encouragement and discipleship has been possible and I treasure them. They have been periods of significant growth and development, but, I also recognise that it takes serious intentional choice and some sacrifice to enable it to happen in a busy lifestyle.

I want my everyday life to be touched with the glory of God.  I want to live a real, every moment Christian life and I hope you do too. It is not just the overall strategy of our church life that matters, the authenticity of our daily living counts and anything that makes our Christian life more effective matters.

It was not just Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection which affected the world in which we live. It was also the way he lived his life, the people he touched on the journey that gave us a true picture of how life can be lived to the glory of God in any century. I would encourage you to take time this year not just to focus on our church strategies for mission and evangelism but to prioritize how to grow in discipleship in daily life, to make space to listen and encourage each other’s faith journey and  make each moment count.

Deacon Maureen Spinks

   

       

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It says in Colossians chapter 4 and verses 5-6 that we are to
‘Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone’.

Recently in the Circuit, there have been many discussions on the subject of evangelism.  It seems to me that Jesus, the master evangelist, used something that many Christians seriously lack today, which is tact. Tact has been defined as diplomacy with a touch of sensitivity.

Isaac Newton defined tact as "the art of making a point without making an enemy."

Have you noticed that some people have a built-in offence system to the essential message of the gospel? I certainly have as I tried to share on different occasions in our circuit the Gospel message

Sometimes I feel like arguing the point.  However, I learnt quite quickly that we don't have to make it worse by being insensitive to people.

When Jesus approached the woman at the well in Samaria, He asked her a question. He drew her out. He engaged her.
Evangelism is a dialogue, not a monologue. And the best way to engage a person in a conversation is to listen.

In starting a conversation, the objective is to build a bridge. That is what we want to do. Ask people about themselves.  And as they talk, engage them. Ask them questions. We don't have to cut people off. We don't have to contradict them. We don't have to insult them. Just listen.

I wonder how good we are at listening to each other and our desires and needs for the life of our circuit?

In every discussion, there is a place for point and counterpoint. However, no one has ever been argued into the kingdom of God.

And I have seen Christians win the argument and lose the soul. But I would rather win the soul and listen and engage and give and take.

I believe this approach will build our circuit and ultimately the Kingdom of God.

As we do this, we will know from the conversation how to respond with the Gospel message. Listen patiently. And then respond appropriately.

Of course there will be times in our life together as a circuit when we will get it wrong.  I think we can take heart from a great Bible character.

Apart from Jesus himself, the great evangelist, no name is mentioned in the New Testament more often than Simon Peter. He was a central figure of Jesus' three years of ministry and of the first three years of the early church. No other person speaks as often or is spoken to as often in the Gospels as Peter.

He was good at both talking and listening

I take great comfort as an evangelist from the story of Peter.  For no other disciple was reproved and corrected as often as Peter was. While others may have thought certain things, Peter would say them. He seemed to say whatever came into his mind at any given moment. People always knew where they stood with Peter.

We are familiar with the story about Peter's walking on water, and much is said about the fact that he sunk. But it also should be pointed out that Peter is the only one who dared to take such a bold step of faith and, at least for a time, walked on the water with Jesus.

Yes, Peter later denied the Lord. Yes, he failed miserably. But he was recommissioned by Jesus. And he stood up on the Day of Pentecost and preached the first sermon to the early church, which resulted in 3,000 people believing in Christ.

Peter was a hero of the faith who shook his world like few others. And God is still looking for men and women to shake this world.

All the very best for 2011 in our conversations and of course in our listening to each other .

Reverend Martin Swan

 

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Dear Friends,

 As you read this we will have entered a New Year and many of you will have, or will be about to have, taken part in the annual Covenant Service. This is the service in which we are invited to recommit ourselves to serving God in the year ahead. We declare that we are no longer our own but belong to God and that God’s will not ours should be done in all things. We further profess that we are willing to serve God where ever God shall choose.

 It is not a promise or a commitment to be entered into lightly. I am particularly aware of its implications for me as during the course of the year I will be entrusting myself to the Methodist Stationing process that will determine where I will be called to serve as a minister from September 2012 onwards. But for all of us, whether we are preparing to move to a new location or not, it is an act of complete trust in God. It is our declaration that God is ultimately in charge of our lives and not us. How do we feel about that?

 Before answering that question I find it helpful to recall that before making that commitment the Covenant Service reminds us that “God promises us new life in Christ” and that the power to do all the things that we promise “is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us”. Then as I stop and look back over my life and those closest to me I see that it is true. That Christ does strengthen us and that new life is offered and what is more it is often when everything that we have taken for granted or have assumed would continue is threatened and disappears that we discover this reality.

 As I write this as a family we are preparing to send out our Christmas letter to family and friends scattered around the country. Now I need to be honest and admit that it is my wife, Marian, who essentially writes the letter, Jon and I just add a little bit of detail and help with the editing! The letter that is being sent out records that 2010 has been for us a very good year in which we have been blessed in many ways. At the heart of that blessing has been the discovery for Marian of new areas of ministry that are not confined or defined by the institutional church, but owe their existence to a deep sense of God’s presence experienced in the world. That experience has come about after Marian had to come to terms with the fact that the ordained ministry to which she had been called was no longer open to her for a series of reasons I will not go into here. It was however a time of very real desolation and pain for us as a family as it seemed as if everything that had meant so much was being taken away. In many ways it was about living through the reality of the Covenant commitment in its extreme form, “Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I may endure… when I am troubled … when I am disregarded … when I have nothing..”

 The Good News I have to share with you from our experience is this. When it looks as though nothing is left and hope seems pointless there we meet God and a new future beckons. When we let go of all the things that we think matter we discover God who meets us, in Jesus, and we are offered the chance of a new future. Perhaps the sad thing is that too often we can try to hold onto our present experiences because deep down we find it hard to trust in God’s promises and rely on God’s grace and so we miss out on what God wants for us. The question then for me, and for you, if you choose, is will I truly trust the one in whose hands I have placed my life for the year ahead, as I have made the Covenant promise and declared, “I am no longer my own but yours,…”?

God bless,


Phil Taylor

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Dear Friends,

As I write, on a dismal wet November morning, I am very aware that the Connexional Stationing Committee will be gathering at Kings Park, Northampton, to start their prayerful deliberations over the 2011 round of Stationing. About 150 Circuits are looking for ministers (I mean presbyters in this context as the Diaconate Order sorts the Deacons out separately, but with an eye on what is happening with the Presbyters). About 135 ministers are looking for Circuits. Approximate figures as new profiles have been appearing at the last minute.

Where will they ask me to go? Who will they ask to come to Northampton? By the time you read this, we will know the answers to those questions, and be living with the excitement or disappointment.  Once the initial euphoria or despair has faded away, we need to work at making the new relationships grow into something that is positive for all concerned, and furthers the Kingdom of God here in Northamptonshire.

I am very thankful for the start in Ministry that Northampton Circuit has given me. Despite some (very few) sticky moments, I have been accepted by the churches, supported by the staff (especially Andy Brooks while I was a Probationer) and allowed to flourish. Little seedlings need to be transplanted carefully, watered and fed, and protected from strong winds. Then, hopefully, they will become healthy vigorous plants, bearing fruit.  I have seen other probationers whose first few years were not so good.

You now (hopefully) have 2 new ministers coming to work among you. I have only seen the presbyteral profile, where the Circuit Invitations Committee, on your behalf, have asked for a minister to lead worship and mission initiatives across the Circuit. Someone who can enable new ways of being church whilst being sympathetic to traditional forms. Essentially, someone who is able to work collaboratively and flexibly.

My challenge to you (and there always will be a challenge from me!) is to think about how you, each member of every church in the Circuit, will work collaboratively with one another, with other churches, with the Circuit Staff. I am amazed at the distance some of you have travelled in this ‘new way of being Circuit’ and I thank God for His Grace seen within the lives of the folk in the pews. But there is still work to be done before the entire Circuit can be said to be totally team-like in its approach.

Are you daunted by the prospect? Annoyed at the thought of yet more adjustment? Exhausted and longing for a return to the ‘Good Old days’ when you knew exactly where you were? Or excited by new things that are beginning to happen in churches around you?

I admit to having equally strong feelings of excited anticipation and dread at the thought of moving and going somewhere new. I famously stated at Ministerial College that I did not like change at all! Last week, (early November), whilst I was praying over my final list of stations for which I would like to be considered, I was at Launde Abbey on retreat with St John Bell of Iona. Just before I had to send my email to the Chair of District with my final choices, John spoke on Psalm 23, and reflected on the two images of God that are found there.

The Shepherd is a male image, strong yet nurturing and compassionate. The one who prepares the table for me … is that role not usually filled by a woman? He then looked at Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 found sheep in order to look for the one lost sheep. Immediately after this parable, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a woman who turns the house up-side-down to find the coin she has lost.  The male and female imagery around our understanding of God is something that I like to ponder on. I often use the phrase, ‘God who loves us with the strength of a mother and the tenderness of a father’ when I lead prayers.

The one who is preparing things ahead of us, for us, links us into Advent – the celebration of the coming of the shepherd as a tiny child. Another time of wonder and suspense – and the fulfilment of God’s promises. A time when God took enormous risks and asked Mary, a teenage girl, and Elizabeth, an old woman, to step out in faith with Him. A time when filthy dirty agricultural workers were shown the beauty of God’s glory, and when strange Eastern mystics travelled to herald the birth of a king, born in a stable. A time when it could be argued that no-one was ready for such an event, and no-one realised the full potential of what was unfolding before them, and perhaps even God did not know exactly how things would end up….

Praise be to God for the mysteries of faith that he gradually reveals to us!

I pray that during Advent, Christmas and the anticipations of 2011, as each one of us looks forward to the next stage in our work of bringing in God’s Kingdom, may we all know in a very real way that we are being led by a shepherd who loves us and cares for us, and that there is One who is already preparing wonderful things ahead of us.

Love in Christ

Glayne
 

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The answer is "Yes, Jesus!"… what's the question?

Years ago, a young mother was making her way across the hills of South Wales, carrying her baby in her arms, when she was caught in a heavy blizzard.  She never reached her destination and when the blizzard ended the search party found her body under a mound of snow.  They discovered that before she died she had taken off all her outer clothing and wrapped it around her baby.  When they unwrapped the child, to their surprise and joy, they found the baby alive and well.  She had given her life for her child, proving the depths of her mother love.

Maternal instinct at it's best is one of the most powerful examples of living sacrifice I know. I never cease to be impressed at the sacrifices that mothers make day by day for their families!

Paul writes: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:1

What does it mean to you - "sacrifice"? Maybe thoughts of dead animals, blood-shed; maybe giving at great personal cost, either of money or of time and energy.

The dictionary says: "sacrifice: the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else more important or worthy."  OED

In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul spent eleven chapters giving an in depth explanation of all that God has done for us: he describes the sin in the world concluding that all have fallen short; he speaks of God's mercy and grace in providing Jesus as our Saviour loving and dying for us even when we were still sinners; the gift of new life in the Spirit and God's sovereignty over history - always working for good.

Therefore... in the context of everything that God has done for us, the only appropriate response we can make is to offer ourselves wholly to Him in return.

…in view of all this offer your bodies…

Sometimes Christians talk about giving your heart to God - Paul says give your body!
Ok Paul… not much of an offering, but Ok.

Sounds a bit strange but I think he's saying that what we do and say is so closely coupled with our mind and inner self that you can't have one without the other - it's the whole of us!  And actually what we think and believe only becomes our real living faith when we do it in daily living… using our bodies. (James 2:18)

It's really tempting for us to have different compartments in our lives e.g. our spiritual life, our work life, our home and family life. It's much easier to have beliefs that we acknowledge and believe in our minds, in our private prayer life and then slip into being like everyone else when we go to work, home, school, shopping, driving, etc. But it's vital that we connect it all together and live by faith in all of parts of our life, all of the time. It's hard and often costly.

As Pete Briscoe of "Telling the Truth" ministries puts it: "The answer is "Yes Jesus!" What's the question?" Whatever Jesus asks us to do the answer has to be "Yes!" even when it means sacrifice at personal cost. But as Paul says: since God has done all this for us, because of his great mercy and grace to us, in view of his great goodness, surely the only reasonable, logical thing to do is to make God the most important thing in our lives above everything else in every situation… whatever the cost.

Perhaps you''ve heard all this before, maybe many times.  The trouble is, even when we make that surrender and even when we live in it for a while, other things tend to creep back in to our priorities, begin to take over again.  So we need a reminder. We need to review, re-examine our lives, our attitudes and choose to surrender again whatever the Spirit shows us is in the way.  It's an on-going, day by day, living sacrificially to express our love for God.

The challenge we share:
How does the way I'm living today express sacrificially my gratitude to God and show that He is most important of all to me?

Yours in Christ,

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maureen

Giving thanks and praise.  As I write this we are in the midst of harvest a season when we celebrate Gods love and provision especially through creation and I am reminded of the place of praise in the practice of our faith and especially as my mind goes back to the early days of my Christian life and when I first discovered the healing and healthy properties of praising God.

I had read a book called "from prison to praise" soon after becoming a Christian. Some new Christian friend had passed it to me and encouraged me to read it and, eager to learn, I began to practice praise in my prayer life and in my daily journey. From being quite a shy young person I soon discovered that when my life was full of praising God I found it much easier to speak up about my faith and in many other ways and about many other things. As the years went by I discovered the power of praise, to encourage me when low, to enable me to do difficult things, most of my praise was then was expressed in song; when I was on my own doing housework and when walking to and fro to meetings and shopping, if you ask my daughters they will recall with great clarity the singing while we walked and later when we had a car. More recently I have discovered that my life has lost some quality of joy that it once had, some might put that down to difficult situations or struggling with my MA but I am beginning to wonder if it is the lack of praise both in my heart and expressed either in song or in prayer. I remember a sermon I once wrote on Psalm 40 particularly verses 9 and 10

    "I have told the glad news of deliverance
        in the great congregation;
    see, I have not restrained my lips,
        as you know, O Lord.
    I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
        I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
    I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
        from the great congregation."
 
And as I ponder what I preached then
 

  1. That praise is what God is due at all times and in all places within the congregation and yes outside it to our ordinary speech should be littered with praise to God for all he is and all he does for us.

  2. That by praising God at all times we remind ourselves of our privilege to know him and to be known by him.

  3. We enable ourselves to see our lives and the lives of others through his eyes and from his perspective and that frees us from preoccupation with ourselves and gives us the freedom to love and serve others with humility and compassion.


This harvest I intend to return praise to the centre of my life beginning with all that I can see and sense of God's creation and continuing to with all the wonderful things he has done and is doing in my life. I intend to return to praise in private and in public and I urge you to join me in asking that
    God may "put a new song in my mouth,  a song of praise to our God" Psalm 40:3 (NRSV)  
With love and with grateful thanks for God and his Love

Maureen
    

       

martin2013

I am pretty sure that we have all seen the Television advert for "spec-savers".  It is a truly wonderful promise, for this company assures us that we can all have the best vision possible, for the smallest of cost.

And lets be honest, who among us would not want to have clear vision.

However, when it comes to the Christian understanding of "vision" there is no "spec-saver" offers to be had.  When we seek to understand the "vision" that God has for His church, there is often a cost, and at times a high price to be paid.

Discerning and moving into Godly vision is a cyclical process.  My understanding is that it includes four phases.

Firstly, we need to discern the vision from God.  Leaders in God's church cannot seek a vision for the future without themselves spending much time in prayer.
Together as we seek God's vision for the church, we must then also encourage all our members to pray for the vision process.  This will increase the numbers of listening ears.

Secondly, there must be good planning.  This enables us to create ways to achieve the vision God is giving to us.  The projects, changes in organisation and activities, all coming together to Glorify God.
The amount of action required increases as plans and strategies are drawn up.  This stage too requires careful prayer. (No spec-saver moment here!)

Thirdly, there must be action.  We then begin to see the implementation of the changes and projects required to achieve the vision.  Any vision requires change as the church moves into a different state.  Any change often brings challenge and at times conflict.  Prayer can help this by minimising the conflict, and by directing pastoral care into the situations where prayer is needed.

And finally, we need a time of reflection.  Does our vision need amending?  Do we really want the vision God has given us to be achieved?  Again, we need to pray.  Prayer is powerful.  Vision is energising.  Combining the two enables the church to undergo a Spiritual pilgrimage into the future that God is calling into being. 

So the price we pay is our time, commitment and prayers. Then we really will have good vision to see God at work.  If we want a cheaper version then I suppose we can join in with the slogan "should have gone to spec-savers"!!!!!!

Every Blessing to you all

Reverend Martin Swan  
 

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You will be reading this letter in the middle of what is for many people the holiday season. For those fortunate enough to be able to get away it provides an opportunity to experience somewhere different and to enjoy a time of rest and recreation. I am looking forward to recharging my batteries whilst exploring some of the islands off the west coast of Scotland, namely on Coll, Tiree, Mull and Iona. They will provide an opportunity to get away from it all and hopefully to return home refreshed and renewed. All of us need such opportunities whether through going away on holiday or finding sufficient space in our daily lives to do something different and to find time to stop and stare.

As I write all that is in the future but my thoughts are also drawn to the weekend that has just passed and my experience of it. It was the weekend at which Andy Murray failed to make it to the Wimbledon final and the one in which England were notably absent from the World Cup quarter finals so my reflections have nothing to do with sporting triumph! My wife, Marian, and I have returned from sharing in a 40th Wedding Anniversary celebration that was held at St Deiniol's Residential library in North Wales. St Deiniol's is the only residential library in the country and it was set up at the wish of William Gladstone, the 19th Century British Prime Minister, following his death. It is used by amongst others clergy and academics from all over the world and it is a place that we have enjoyed staying at in the past. The invitation came from our friends Bill and Andrenna. Marian first met Bill over 28 years ago when she went to Newcastle University to study Biblical Studies and Bill was one of the lecturers.

Bill and Andrenna had invited 40 of their friends to celebrate the occasion with them and because Bill has a reputation for "possibly being the most organised man in the universe" he had put together a full programme of events and activities for the weekend. Those activities gave us the opportunity to get to know one another in a whole variety of settings. From visiting Gladstone's library at Hawarden Castle, a walk around the local area, a harp recital by a renowned Welsh harpist, a visit to Ness Botanical Gardens, a Fire Work display last thing on Saturday evening, to an opportunity to share in Communion first thing on Sunday morning, with much eating in between the weekend was action packed and full of fun. Whilst not exactly restful it was invigorating and exciting and has left us with memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

At breakfast time on Sunday some of us were talking about the amazing mix of people from very diverse backgrounds who were gathered together. We would not have ordinarily been together but for one important thing. What we had in common was our friendship with Bill and Andrenna. A situation made possible by their amazing ability to make and sustain friendships across continents and across the years and a wonderful ability to make their friends feel special and important. So much so that some of the guests had travelled from the USA and Canada whilst others had come from all parts of the UK. Amongst the guests there were members of their family, there were renowned Biblical scholars (for those of you who read Bible commentaries you may recognise the names James Dunn and Morna Hooker), there were former students as well as friends made whilst studying at Glasgow and Cambridge, there were believers and unbelievers, young and old. A fascinating mix of interesting individuals brought together through friendship. Indeed our own son, whom they have known from before he was born, counts himself one of their friends (in fact he is in more regular contact than we are, via Face book) and followed some of the events of the weekend on their Face book page.

I came away reflecting on the experience and I realised we had glimpsed an image of what the Church, at its best, can be, indeed is. People from a rich variety of backgrounds and experiences held together through the one relationship that we have in common, our relationship with God, through Jesus. A relationship that is possible because of God's absolute commitment to us. We discover that we are in a relationship because we have in common the realisation that we are loved by God, that each of us is important and valued by God and is precious in God's sight. When that is central to our experience we discover anew the richness and excitement of being truly alive and belonging to one another. May that continue to be our experience in the months ahead when the memories of holidays fade and we are back in the midst of our often hectic lives and as we continue our journey of faith, wherever it may take us and whoever we may find ourselves journeying alongside.

God bless,

Phil Taylor
 

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Summer is here again - at last! As well as strawberries and suntans to enjoy, it is the season for weddings. We Methodists do not have as many as some of my Anglican friends, but this year I have a delightful "glut" of infant baptisms. Babies, toddlers, all ages, shapes and sizes.

Weddings and Infant Baptisms pose some dilemmas for the ministers. It's never a problem if the family is fully integrated into the active, worshipping life of the church. But what should we say when asked by people who are not regular church-goers, to marry them or baptise their kids in church?

Some denominations are very straightforward and strict about this. Only church members are allowed to have such services, and always in the context of the whole church family being there to support them. Or they will only marry couples if they attend the church for an agreed time before the wedding. We Methodists have a more open response, of welcome and further conversation. Within our team here at Northampton we have different approaches, but we have discussed some of the issues together. My personal approach is to usually say "yes" to such requests.

What do you think? Do you ever ask if such an approach is right or wrong? Do we show a desire to attract new people into the church by allowing weddings and baptisms? At least they are in church, if only for that service, to hear the gospel - who knows what may come of it. I know a woman who is now a Methodist minister who first became a Christian following her child's baptism. Shouldn't the church be showing a warm welcome to families especially if they want to come to church for their wedding or baptism?

Others may argue that such promises can only be said if the people involved are fully believing and practicing Christians, demonstrated by their previous membership and attendance at church.

My answer to that is that faith is a journey, and in these days, where the couple has such a wide choice of venue possible for a wedding, for them to choose the church shows some understanding of the relevance of God in their lives, and by agreeing to do the wedding I am giving them an opportunity to discuss what God means to them. And when a family brings their child to church for a baptism, it is because at some level, they value the ritual of baptism. When I suggest the thanksgiving service instead of baptism, very often, they will be insistent that they want their child baptised. Somehow they know it is different.

I do these services in hope. Hope that they will hear and experience something of God's love during the service. Hope that they will see something in the church community that they want to connect with. Hope that in the middle of this important day for them, they will remember that God had a part. Hope that the promises that they make will stay with them.

All of this is my part to play in the wedding or baptism. What part does the local church have? In baptism services we remember our baptisms, and also promise as a church to be there to support the family. Do we ensure that we always show our very friendliest side to our guests? Do we try to see church through their eyes, to help them feel at ease before, during and after the service?

In September many of our churches will be taking part in Back to Church Sunday - a day when we make an effort to personally invite friends and family back to church for a "enquirer-friendly" service. I see these baptisms and weddings as similar chances to make church accessible for those who might not otherwise be there.

I hope you all have a good summer, and enjoy your holidays. And if there is a baptism at your church, see what an opportunity it can be for spreading God's message.


Love from Glayne

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