You are the beloved

Fortunately, for those of us hoping to become ordinands and train for the priesthood—and I do know that we’re pretty rare birds!– the selection process is not a competition—not a zero-sum game where there is a limited number of places.  Each of us is to be evaluated on the basis of our own merits—our own unique gifts. But that is not to say that everyone gets a place! Nonetheless, I think that this is a very beautiful and God-centred way of assessing people.

Some months ago I gave two sermons regarding the spoken words of God on two important occasions—the baptism of Christ and the Transfiguration.  In these two encounters God says, “This is my Son, the beloved.  With him I am well-pleased.”  The New Testament makes it clear that in Christ we can all have access to this status and identity as adopted children of God.

John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”  2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “And I will be a Father to you.” Galatians 4:4-7 says that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

But what does this mean for us? It means that despite any problems in our upbringing—I mean, no human parents are perfect—the adoptive parenting of God can be perfect and give us a great sense of identity and security.

As you can imagine, this reality should radically change the way we look at ourselves and other people.  If we can truly take hold of our identities as children of God we can stop comparing ourselves to one another.  We no longer have to regard one another as rivals.  We can take hold of the fact that God loves us regardless of what we do for a living or what we do in general, regardless of how intelligent we are, regardless of what we look like, regardless of the things people say about us, and regardless of our wealth and possessions—or lack of them.  This new way of looking at ourselves should give us true inner freedom and peace.

Like most people, I have to confess that I spend more time comparing myself to others than I should.  But this creates tendencies to covetousness, envy, insecurity, pride or worse.  In September I had a practice Bishops’ Advisory Panel and I have to say that at that event there was a strong sense that we were all “sizing each other up”, as the saying goes.  I know that to some extent, in such a novel situation with unfamiliar people, this is inevitable. Certain theories of group behaviour mention newly formed groups going through phases of “forming, storming, norming and performing” as they struggle to succeed in the tasks they are given. But, if not done in the proper, Godly light, this can lead to a great deal of unnecessary discomfort, and feeling either superior or inferior to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 Because of the Coronavirus, my upcoming Bishops’ Advisory Panel, which will be in June, will not put any of us in situations of direct competition with our peers.  Just the same, I will still have a tendency to be comparing myself to some unattainable ideal.  On the other hand, I have to say that all the spiritual preparation that I have been undertaking has given me a powerful sense of identity in God.  After spending more frequent time with the scriptures and in prayer I am finding the peace of Christ a little less elusive, and, in fact, much of the time I feel an overwhelming sense of blessedness.  This means that even if I am not selected I will still be left with a strong sense of being the beloved, with whom God is well-pleased.  And I will have spent more time with Him than I would have in my past life. It has been worth every moment and this gives me great joy.

Kim Regan

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pruning and Purple Socks

Hoping you’re all enjoying the garden whilst the sun shines and perhaps doing a bit of pruning?

I’m enjoying the daily reflections in Bible Reading Fellowship notes at the minute –( speak to Janet Neilson if you’d like a copy!)- and last Tuesday’s was based on John Chapter 15– Jesus the true vine .Verse 5 says;

‘I am the vine you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit.’

You may be wondering where purple socks come into this !  Back in 2016  our very lovely minister gave me a gift of’ Holy Socks’ when I was having various cancer treatments. They are lavender with purple grapes on – my granddaughter Ellie was particularly impressed with the colour and subtle design I remember. I wore them to hospital on my chemotherapy days , and I have to say they are still going strong .They came with a card  containing a meditation on the vine, which has been stuck to the side of our piano .It is a very beautiful meditation which I’d better not  share for fear of breaching copyright rules but I’ve made up a prayer based on the theme;

Let me abide in the vine that is in you , my Lord and Saviour.

Let me give up my fruitless branches willingly.

Let me not fear your pruning, but look to bear more fruit .Amen.

In John 5 verse 7 Jesus promises that if we abide in Him and He in us , then whatever we ask shall be done . Fairly mind-blowing  when you think about it.

In the vine meditation abide was reflected on as being a very beautiful and peaceful word .It suggested that asking to abide in Christ is the best and only thing to ask for, as everything else will flow from that. It then ends the meditation reflecting that no effort on our part, no matter how great, will produce the peace of abiding in Christ –because it is a gift to us ,given already by the grace of God.

Looking forward to seeing you all again at St George’s – and showing off my socks!

Morag Ranson

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scrubshub

Ten days since I last shared my thoughts on lockdown, I would love to be able to tell you that I have achieved all the jobs that I’ve been putting off for ages, but I can’t. I have got closer with some things, but that major spring clean and repainting are no nearer.

However my main task this last week has been sewing scrubs for keyworkers. There is a website and a wonderful group of people co-ordinating the work, sourcing the material, thread etc and collecting the finished products. Although some hospitals are not taking anything made by the public, other places such as doctors’ surgeries, care homes etc are welcoming donations with open arms.

 I have lots of fabric as my mother in law was a sewer and an inveterate hoarder, a trait which she has kindly passed on to her son. So when we cleared her house out many years ago, I brought a lot of the fabric back here with me. She had friends who ran a fabric shop so would often buy random lengths to make a garment in the future and of course that fabric was never quite right for what was needed!

The instructions given by the Scrubshub were clear that any fabric had to be cotton or at the minimum 50/50 polyester cotton and washable at 60’C. So I heaved loads of hopefully appropriate fabric into the washing machine to see what survived and most of it did and my washing line looked very odd with random lengths and colours.

Next to print the pattern for the scrubs, tops and bottoms. I have a standard home printer that takes A4 paper and let me tell you that it takes 50 sheets of A4 to print the pattern and then a whole evening to stick them together in the right order and cut them out. Also I discovered that many of these lengths of material just were not long enough to make a complete top or bottom.

I did however have enough to cut out one complete set of large scrubs and so managed to make my first set. My second set were from a donated black bed sheet to make a set for Janine, our curate, as she is on the on call Chaplains’ rota at Stepping Hill Hospital and so needed appropriate apparel. That was much easier I’d made my mistakes on the first set and fortunately as we are not vastly different sizes, I could make sure it fitted. More sets will follow this week.

So although my house isn’t much tidier, my mind is happier as I feel that I am being useful.

Hazel Jenkins

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What does a good day look like?

Bishop Keith recently asked us to consider this question “What does a good day look like?”

I’ve been pondering that question and I thought I would share some thoughts with you.

Starting the day well: Waking up with unresolved worry from the day before is never a good way to start the day. So, I suppose starting the day well for me means ending the previous day well. The daily Examen is a good way to prayerfully reflect on the day that has gone: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/ and it helps me end the day in peace.

Setting my mood to positive when I wake up also helps me have a good day.  I use Alexa for my morning alarm and it wakes me up each day with the song ‘Morning Has Broken’ instead of a shrill bell! I’m giving thanks and praise for the day ahead before I have even got out of bed. Of course, good coffee also sets me up for a good day ahead.

Spending time with those I love: Busy daily life means we can be with people we love without ever spending quality time with them. In our house, we try and cook at least one meal together each week and we go for a daily walk together. It gives us chance to talk and listen to each other without the distractions of daily life.   A walk in the countryside followed by a home cooked meal would be the perfect afternoon. My puppy adds lots of fun to the day too.

A sense of adventure: I like to have a purpose to the day.Learning something new or doing something different each day stops me getting into a rut. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that excites me. Sometimes it’s just cooking something new or planning a holiday or trip for later in the year.

Prayer and meditation: Time for prayer sounds like stating the obvious but it can be very difficult to make time during the day – there are always distractions. Yet prayer is at the heart of everything I do and spending dedicated time in prayer is a real joy and privilege. For me, a good day would include spending time sitting under a tree in the sunshine meditating prayerfully on the Psalms and being open to the Holy Spirit through rich scripture.

Laughter: Laughing is good for your health – it’s official! Laughter is not just an expression of happiness and joy – laughing actually helps create happiness and joy. A good day always involves some laughter.  If you haven’t laughed today, find someone or something that will make you giggle!

What makes a good day?

As I ponder what makes a good day I can see a pattern emerging of things that matter to me most; being at peace, being with people I love, having a purpose to the day, having fun, and spending time with God in dedicated prayer but also going about my day prayerfully.

I wonder what a good day looks like for you, and how do you go about making that happen?

Janine Arnott

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Staying Positive

It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives when life gets a little tough. So, this week I’ve been writing a list of all the positives about ministering online during the lock down. Here are my top ten:

10. More time at home to catch up on paperwork. More time in the office is an opportunity to catch up on all those admin jobs that get pushed to one side in the usual busyness of life.

9. More time with the family. Working from home means I see my family more. They also get to see and understand my ministry much more as they see everything I do, either at home or online. My dog also loves me being at home! 

8. Learning new skills. I’ve learnt how to stream live services, how to hold meetings via Zoom, and how to design services that work online. Every day is a new learning opportunity.

7. Reaching more people. Our live streamed services are reaching many more people than our usual services.  Some viewers are regular congregation members (including some who can’t usually join us due to health or caring responsibilities), others are joining for the first time. The church building is closed but the church is very much alive!

6. Time to reflect on ministry. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my own ministry during the lockdown. I’ve had the chance to explore new ways of ministering and time to reflect on what sort of ministry God may be calling me to. As a church, we’ve been able to try new services like 9.00pm Compline, 5.00pm Storytime and 1.00pm Virtual Messy Church – all of which have proved very popular.

5. Contributing to the environment. Less travel means less pollution, so I’m contributing to helping our planet breathe again.

4. Seeing our church come together. Who knew there were so many skills and such commitment within our congregation?  Seeing people step up and step forward has been amazing. Offers of help, hidden talents and skills emerging, a willingness to be part of something new – our church is growing in faith, in prayer, in strength, and in numbers. 

3. Sharing ideas. Churches across the country have gone online and it’s been a great opportunity to see different types of ministry and to learn from other churches. Hopefully,  others will also have learnt from us.  Never before has the church been able to share some many ideas!

2. Seeing God at work. Closing down church buildings was a courageous and unprecedented move but just look at how God has worked in and through His people! Even the press have now caught onto the creativity and adaptability of the church.  The church isn’t just surviving, it is positively thriving!

1. Morning prayer in my pyjamas. No more rush hour traffic or trying to find the last parking space. Morning prayer in my pyjamas with a cup of tea and some toast. How very civilised!   Surely I’m not the only one?

What are your top ten positives from the lock down?

Janine Arnott

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jokes in the Bible

Is it wrong to giggle at the Scripture? Are there jokes in the Bible?

I ask because for some time now, the morning prayer group have found it difficult to contain themselves when reading Psalm 44 verse 12: “You sold your people for a trifle.”

We know what it means, but it just brings up images of a small pot of Bird’s Custard Trifle

Now we’re online streaming, the same problem arose today, when we looked at Psalm 115 verse 6: “Their idols…they have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell” and immediately thoughts went to the first joke we managed to teach Aneurin, though we taught him the ‘dog’ version.

My god’s got no nose!
No nose, how does it smell?
Terrible!

There are other examples:

Matthew 4:18: “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting Annette into the sea – for they were fishermen.” (author’s hearing)

I always feel sorry for Peter and Andrew’s sister when I listen to this passage being read. We hear nothing about her ever again, but primarily, she’s not even introduced!

I’m sure by now you’ll be saying that these are just jokes from translation, or even worse, jokes from mishearing, but are there REAL jokes in the Bible?

When we open our Bibles, we do it in the belief that we’re reading something serious and solemn, even though it contains the Good News about Jesus Christ – about his death and Resurrection and what that really means for us. There are, however, some real jokes in the Bible, even though we might not understand the Hebrew culture of jokes:

When Elijah summons the prophets of Ba’al to Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18, he does so in the full knowledge that this is going to be a one-sided battle between his God and Ba’al. But Elijah tries to make it look as though there is a level playing field. Ba’al after all is the god of rain, the god of thunder, the god fertility and the god of weather in general. So, what better way for this god proving himself in a time of drought than by sending down lightning to burn up an altar, soaked in water.

The prophets of Ba’al called out to him, they limped around the altar, in the end they cut themselves, whilst all the while Elijah taunted them. “Maybe he’s meditating or wandered off, or maybe asleep.” We’ve missed the joke… when Elijah taunts them about him meditating and wandering off, the two Hebrew words he uses can also mean err… ‘using the bathroom!’ Ba’al’s taking a bathroom break whilst meditating on the loo!

A second joke occurs in Mark Chapter 5. Jesus asks the demons possessing the man, “What is your name?” and the demons reply, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And Jesus commands them to come out of the man and possess a herd of pigs who immediately run over the edge of a cliff into the lake. Did you miss the joke?

The Jewish people are under the military rule of the Romans, who are ordered into Legions. They are unpopular and almost every single Jew would wish that a legion would take a long walk off a short cliff!

There are more jokes if you only look carefully.

Peter Hall

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can’t keep it in!

16 April 2020

When I heard about ‘lockdown’, I thought “What a wonderful chance to get some work done—if only I, or someone near to me doesn’t become ill”.  As I am retired, by “work” I meant preparing for “BAP”—the Bishops’ Advisory Panel.  That is the Church of England’s three day selection exercise for choosing ordinands.  Not priests, but people selected to become ordinands and undergo two to three years of ordination training to become first curates, and later priests. I have to admit, it’s rather a lot of hoops for someone who is already 61, but I am hoping that, if I am selected the Church will get 10 years of service from me in addition to the time I spend as a trainee and curate.  And that’s all unpaid service, as if selected, I will be on the path to becoming an SSM, or Self-Supporting Minister.

Unfortunately, an unforeseeable family situation meant that it has been difficult for me to do as much work as I had planned.  Nonetheless, I am optimistic about being ready by mid-June when my BAP will take place in its new virtual guise.  I have spent 18 months analysing and worrying about traditional BAP and am much relieved that I will be able to do the new version without leaving home, rather than traipsing halfway across the country.  Didn’t Jesus say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself”?  The “proof is in the pudding” or in the BAP, as they say.

“Well, what is this ‘work’ all about?”, people ask me when I tell them I am in “discernment.”  I have been in discernment for over a year and it has involved a number of conversations, essays, more conversations and more essays.  All of these conversations and essays revolve around the church’s selection criteria, which include topics such as spirituality, faith, vocation, ministry in the Church of England, leadership, relationships, mission and evangelism, quality of mind and personality and character.

I have found the whole process immensely enjoyable.  Since my experience with cancer, there is nothing I like more than reading the Bible and theology books, thinking, praying, and writing.  Superficially, the process is largely about filling in forms and taking part in interviews, but the forms and interviews require you to dig really deep and I find that fulfilling.  The fact that I find this all so satisfying makes me feel that I am following the right path. I am really looking forward to doing the training, which should start in September or October.  I suppose that that might start virtually as well.  No matter.  It has been and will continue to be an amazing journey—even if I am turned down.

I have to thank Elaine for giving me so many opportunities to “test my vocation” by leading services and giving sermons. That is another big part of discernment. I also have to thank the congregations of St George’s and St Gabriel’s for so patiently enduring the ministrations and sermons of a fledgling.  Hopefully by July we will all know where I stand.  Either way, I will continue to “write stuff”.  Can’t keep it in.

Kim Regan

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflections on the lockdown

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a busy person and like so many retired people, I have no idea how I found time to go to work. Realistically we take on many more things in retirement that we would never have had time for in our working life. So when the lockdown started I thought (like many others I’m sure) this is the time to get all those jobs done that I’ve never had time to do! It will probably come as no surprise, that three weeks in only a fraction of those jobs have been done. Maybe motivation is also a factor and not just time. Granted we have had a tidy up in the loft, no I’ll rephrase that, I have had a tidy up in the loft while being given advice from the top of the loft ladder. I had visions of throwing away enough to fill a skip, but that hasn’t happened either, but I do know what we’ve got and where it is and there are some files of paperwork to be sorted in the evening with one eye on the TV.

Next on the list was to label all the photos taken on our recent trip to New Zealand and edit them at the same time. Well I’ve just got to the end of week one of a six week trip. Along with that was to write an article for Grapevine about the churches we visited. You will be the judge of that when the next Grapevine arrives in your inbox, but at the moment it’s all in my head. Let’s not think about the spring cleaning I was planning, that’s not happened either as basically my theory goes that if no-one is coming to visit us, what is the point of a massive clean? There has also been talk of repainting the lounge, but again we haven’t quite made it.

The garden has however benefitted, particularly because the weather has been so lovely. We have dug and weeded bits of the garden that I don’t think have seen a fork or spade for twenty years and some plants seem to be delighted that they can see the light again. Fences have been creosoted (not by me, I’m too messy), and trellis attached ready for the perennial sweet peas to grow. Compost has been dug in ready for the vegetable plants and my reluctance to throw anything away has meant that there are seeds to be planted when the time is right. I now have time to watch the garden and find it fascinating on my morning inspection to see that the peonies have grown a ridiculous amount overnight and can now be coaxed inside the restraining frame. Anyone would think from this that I’m a keen gardener and they’d be very wrong, but I do like the garden to look tidy.

I was very grateful to have a nice space in the garden to sit yesterday at 2 p.m. This was the time that the funeral of a friend, who had died from Covid-19, was taking place in Blackpool. To be outside was perfect as Paul was someone who loved being in the out of doors and would think nothing of a 50 mile bike ride before lunch at the age of 80! I lit a candle and sat looking at the garden, praying and remembering happy times and holidays together. It felt very peaceful and we will celebrate his life together when we can all travel.

Hazel Jenkins

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Biblical mind’s eye

If you’re anything like me, Biblical narrative creates images of each particular scene in your mind’s eye. In a poem about the Nativity I suggested that the “… acute mind’s eye forms images that centuries of art have fashioned”. In the same poem I noted that these images are “… as numerous as those who have them”, and no doubt what you see is very different from that which forms in my mind – that’s inevitable. Artists’ depictions across the centuries will have been the product not only of their own imaginations, but also of what they saw around them. Thus, we find buildings in classical style, or landscapes that seem far removed from those of the Holy Land. Nevertheless, there are sometimes elements that are unsettlingly contemporary: in Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross, the faces of some of the figures surrounding Jesus have punk-like piercings!

It would be difficult to illustrate or describe just what I do imagine. The surroundings of the scenes are neither particularly historic nor contemporary; indeed, there is little if any background at all, but there are certainly the people. Even then they don’t have memorable features; it is perhaps expressions and gestures that figure more prominently. Some of the more familiar events tend to provide the most immediate images: Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, or turning out the money changers and sellers of doves from the temple. But others are of smaller details such, as the soldiers gambling at the foot of the cross – why? I don’t know! Each scene, imprints images in my mind – I can’t prevent it – it seems entirely natural and spontaneous. But I’m glad they do, for isn’t this what brings the narrative to life and enables us to identify with it in a much more personal, vivid and intense way?

If you’re reading this and making sense of my thoughts, it is reassuring! If you think they’re slightly odd – I understand. Yet the artists who, over the centuries, have created images of Biblical events also needed to rely on their own minds’ eyes to inspire their work.

Of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, that experienced by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has always resonated profoundly with me. They were with him all that time as he walked with them and explained what the scriptures said about him, yet it was only when he blessed and broke bread that they recognised him, and then he vanished from their sight. That precise instant is captured in a small section of a medieval stained-glass window of which I have an illustration. Christ raises his hand in blessing; the two disciples, one at either side, each raise a hand in a gesture of astonishment frequently found in medieval art. I find it very moving that an anonymous stained-glass artist of centuries ago has depicted this miraculous moment in a way that is immediately apparent, through gesture and context, as clearly today as it was when the window was first made. The scene was recreated in the artist/craftsman’s own mind’s eye and reproduced in the beauty of stained glass. It is not as I imagine the scene, but it has a direct impact because the artist and I both share the wonder and significance of it, even though separated by some six to seven hundred years!

Andrew Mayes

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Now Barabbas was an urban guerrilla (or, why isn’t God as we want him to be?)

When I was a child, there were incidents in the Passion narrative that didn’t make sense to my young mind. In particular, why the crowd demanded the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus – why on earth would they do that? As I grew up and gradually became spiritually and historically/politically more aware, it became much clearer, but also revealed that there are times when our view of God can sometimes be distorted for reasons similar to those of the clamouring crowd.

What can we learn about Barabbas from the Gospels? John 18: 40 simply states: “Now Barabbas was a bandit.” Matthew 27: 16 is similarly succinct: “At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.” A bandit, a notorious prisoner – but what had he done? We have to turn to Mark and Luke for more detailed information. Mark 15: 7 makes clear the reason for his imprisonment: “Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the insurrection.” Luke 23: 19 similarly informs “This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.” Insurrection and murder – now we are building up a clearer picture of the man Barabbas.

The Jews were a people under Roman occupation, and evidently there were pockets of resistance and rebellion which had resulted in serious violence. It’s easy to imagine that Barabbas had become something of a cult figure, a ruthless urban guerrilla, if you like, and a focus for support against Roman subjugation. But had there not been promised a Messiah who would free the Jewish people and, more to the point, had not Jesus claimed to be the Messiah? Certainly, he had performed miracles; healing the sick, feeding the five thousand, stilling a raging storm. He had taught of a new way of life, but love your enemies – how was that going to help gain freedom from the Roman oppressors? Barabbas was a man of action; it is not difficult to understand how the chief priests and elders managed to stir up the crowd and persuade them to demand his release. Barabbas was clearly more the sort of character they needed to fight for their freedom. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t appear to be up to the job – not the man they wanted him to be!

Aren’t there moments, when our prayers don’t seem to be being answered, when events such as the Covid-19 pandemic are becoming disturbingly threatening and out of our control, that in our desperation we ask ourselves why isn’t God as we want him to be? Like the crowd who shouted for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus, we want some action! Doesn’t God love us, doesn’t he want to protect us from the horrors that at times confront us?

But then we realise that God himself has been in this very same situation – the cry of Jesus, God’s own Son, on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” rings in our ears. All that the world could throw at humankind for all of time was endured by God in the person of Jesus in that single, terrifying, concentrated moment. We realise also it is the resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter morning that reveals God’s love and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, life over death, not in terms of the temporal, but of the eternal. God does love and care for us, and always will, even if in our darkest moments we can sometimes doubt it.

Andrew Mayes

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment