The graveyard shift !

Earlier this week I posed the question “Am I mad?”. In 2013 I was invited to choose between the regular YMCA sleepout undercover at the Pirelli football stadium or the extreme sleepout in the graveyard of St Modwens Parish Church.

 

My response was that I was too old for the extreme but here I am 5 years later on the verge of my 60th birthday sleeping in that very same graveyard: well I use the word 'sleeping' loosely as having chosen my spot carefully, laid the groundsheet and got into my sleeping bag I managed to grab roughly an hours sleep before waking up to find the constant rain had worn the box down even with the tarpaulin over it. Consequently I now have a very wet sleeping bag and pillow.

 

I'm grabbing half an hours dryness before I get another cardboard box and try again in the hope that the rain will ease off.

 

What have I learned from this ? Firstly slipping on the wet grass and twisting my knee slightly isn't helped by then having to sleep on hard, unforgiving and uneven ground.

 

Secondly, Gods creation is beautiful but also powerful. Rain and wind make lethal foes, and ultimately humanity cannot control or even predict them accurately.

 

Thirdly, and most importantly I'm only out here one night in the year. Tonight in Burton alone will be at least 12 rough sleepers who won't have a bath, a bed and a hot drink to return to in the morning. Instead all they'll face is another long day followed by sleeping rough again. Worse, all this in the knowledge winters coming and the weathers going to worsen.

 

Im very fortunate: I have a house, food,, friends and family to return to: others haven't and this is why I'm doing this again for the 6th time and why I'll do it again next year. I'll become uncomfortable again because others will benefit and perhaps they'll be given hope.

 

 

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Sacrifice

Only two more sleeps to go and then Im into my annual sleep out for the YMCA, which this year will be very different. Why ? because I’m doing the Extreme sleep out in the graveyard of a local Church. Most years I’m under the cover of a stand in the Pirelli football stadium, but this year it will be outdoors, cardboard box and bubble wrap only.

And its started raining today, hard !!!

Quite a number of folk have said I’m mad, and maybe they’re right, but I think its for a good cause. My desire to help goes right back to the time when, as a trainee Minister, I was sent to London to work amongst the homeless. Ever since the Whitechapel Mission has held a special place in my heart. I remember Alison and I arriving on the Sunday morning to meet the Minister and to be taught the ropes. I remember prior to the morning worship looking our of the 1st floor Church window down into the street. Over the road in a bank doorway was a bundle of rags.

As we watched a dog came along and urinated on the bundle of clothes. Then…….a hand came out and shoo’d the dog away.Thats when I realised that there was a human being under the bundle of rags; a woman gradually emerged and suddenly I saw the Minister of the Church, dressed in his white cassock ready for worship, emerge from the door below us; he went across the street and took the woman by the hand holding her close to his side he led her back to the church, where she could get warm and she shared int he worship. I’ll never forget his pristine white cassock was grubby all the way down the side he’d held her but he carried on with worship nevertheless. It spoke volumes to me, that life is tough, grimy and grubby and that grubbiness has to be reflected in worship somehow; worship cannot exist in a vacuum but true worship is both in the reality of life and the sacredness of Heaven.

So often we try to pretend that worship is only on a Sunday morning, dressed in our finery, doing and saying all the ‘right’ things which more than often please us rather than God necessarily, but I think that true worship is about more than our choice of hymns; its about living out our faith in the community around us; its about more than comfortable Sunday attendance, its about an uncomfortable lifestyle of seeking to help others.

Much of this week is being spent at Winshill Methodist Church where the members have opened the building to display a “River of poppies” installation alongside other Remembrance memorabilia. I have met members of the public who don’t attend the Chapel, youngsters from the local assisted learning project, elderly folk from a variety of nursing and care homes, had conversation about an autism support group using the premises and open to my visiting, as well as meeting folk who simply want to sit quietly and remember.

What a contrast, sleeping outdoors to sitting in Church meeting people ! However, this is real life, the horror of war, the striving for peace, recognition that others have bought our freedom, sacrifice. Ultimately that’s what its all about.

On Friday night I’ll be sacrificing my warm comfortable bed to sleep (probably in the rain), in a graveyard; in our remembrance we think of the sacrifice of our armed forces and alongside them, our police, ambulance etc who give of themselves in terrifying situations.

And I think of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave of himself wholeheartedly for each of us on the cross, “I have come that you might have life, life in all its fullness”(John 10:10) Out of sacrifice comes life and hope. I truly believe that the sacrifice of many in years gone by (whether intentionally or otherwise) has allowed me to have freedom in my life and that’s why I’ll be wearing my poppy and sharing in the act of remembrance on Sunday. Similarly I firmly believe that by my fundraising for YMCA some will have a better life. At the moment my fundraising stands at virtually £600 and that will provide a moving in or out bedding kit for 30 people or numerous replacement birth certificates which will allow residents to access health services and benefits. In other words every penny I raise will help someone in some way.

Thirdly, I firmly believe that my Lord Jesus has shown his love for me and released me into working for him by showing that same love to others. What a privilege.

If anyone wishes to support me in the sleep out you can do so by the following link, and certainly by praying for my safety and the safety of the others with whom I’ll share the graveyard.

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund…/showROFundraiserPage…

Thank-you

Whats your journey like ?

I write this having been to Dads house in Co Durham. For the fourth time in. 3 weeks I’ve travelled 140 miles to see him. It’s a long and tiring journey, almost entirely on the A38 and M1. Over the years and especially recently it’s a journey I’ve come to know exceedingly well. In my mind I map it out as a series of landmarks: after 1 hour I expect to be beyond Sheffield and by 2 hours past Leeds. I stop at Wetherby or Boroughbridge depending on time. I can then crack on to go past Scotch corner and then the A167 for Dads house. On the way I’ve passed Catterick Garrison where my cousin was stationed, and the sign for Old Mothers Shiptons Cave which I’ve never been to but is on my bucket list to visit one day.

The point of this travelogue ? It’s become such a familiar route that I rarely think about the mechanics of it? I just follow the familiar routine.

Sometimes Church life is like that: we follow the same routine as we’ve always done, without thought. We pay lip service to finding an alternative route, but we don’t have the courage in case it goes wrong and we get lost !

But to try something different can often energise and excite us, and again it’s the same in Church. Why do we always have to have the chairs in rows identical to the pews they replaced ? Why do we sing 4/5 hymns and not 2 or 6 ? Why does the service have to be an hour because God might want longer (or shorter). The first important point isn’t contained in the answers we offer but in the wrestle and struggle to work out an answer as that means we are searching for Gods will not our own; the second important point isn’t about clapping ourselves on the back but it’s about being prepared to change it all again when God directs us. We are a nomadic religion, never settling and always on the move as we are reminded in hymn 450 (Hymns and Psalms). The trouble is that many of us (if not all of us at some time) have settled, put roots down: we start to use expressions such as “my church”, “we don’t do it that way”, “it was better in the old days” and so on. We start to think about making ourselves comfortable instead of furthering the mission of the Church, telling others about Jesus.

All who call themselves Christian are engaged in a mindbogglingly exciting journey that shouldn’t ever be mundane like the M1 but is full of excitement if you’re prepared to let go of the route you’ve always known and take the risk of something different. Ask yourselves the question, “are you on the journey or have you stopped at the services and never quite got going again ?

I want to see the Church grow, numerically, spiritually and powerfully. I’ve been blessed to have Jesus as my driver since I was 16 and its been a great adventure but theres more yet.

Are you up for joining me on the journey ?

Anyone for a Sandwich ?

Someone, in conversation last week, remarked that people of my age are often the “sandwich generation” and I understood what they meant.

To put things into context……………. as I write this Alison and I are anxiously and excitedly awaiting the arrival of our second Grandchild, a boy to be named Emett William. Any day now……………

At the other end of the age spectrum I have been helping my brother, Andrew, with our Dad who is currently in a temporary secure care home and who (just before his 90th birthday) will need to be rehoused in a permanent care home.

So whilst we are awaiting a joyful event with our children we have become the parent to our Father and we seek the best for his needs. We aren’t the children in the relationship any more.

And we feel torn at times. Yesterday and today especially have been very emotional, tears shed, laughter at memories, anxiety over the future and still trying to fulfil Ministry in the present.

I know I’m not the first to go through this experience and nor will I be the last, and I know I’ve got a magnificent brother in Andrew with whom this experience is shared, BUT even with that knowledge it’s still hard and painful, set alongside the imminent arrival of Emett who will make our family even more complete than it already is.

What to do ? Yes, I’m miserable right now but I’m also excited, holding that strange mix of guilt and expectation. I feel a sense of grief even though Dad is still with us but also thankfulness that we can still care for him, albeit in a different way. I feel grief over the probable loss of the home I grew up in, BUT on the other hand I feel hope and joy over Emett

In this crazy, mixed up, rollercoaster I’m still trying to fulfil my Ministry amongst some great, wonderful, caring folk and I’m still trying to lead this Circuit forward in its mission to this area. I have ideas, vision, but it’s still difficult to find the time to share. At times I feel that these good folk deserve a better Minister but at other times I remind myself that I’m here because God wants me here.

What to do ? All I can do is keep returning to what I see as the three-fold nature of Christian Discipleship   1) Prayer 2) Scripture 3) Trust and follow

 Prayer  underpins it all for it’s about relationship; I take my cares and concerns to the one who I know loves me, but as I pour out my heart and should I also need to listen to his “still, small voice’ for guidance.

Scripture.    is the ‘go to’ place for guidance alongside prayer. Whilst Scripture doesn’t give specific answers to specific situations throughout its pages it speaks of love, care, attitude, priorities and so on. In so doing we can discern Gods will for our lives.

Trust and follow is never easy to do. It speaks of giving oneself over to another. One of the most moving things I have ever heard and I think it’ll stick with me for the rest of my life, came yesterday when Dad holding my hand and speaking of both Andrew and I said “I trust you both”, in the context of making decisions on his life. Its the same on our Christian journey, we who have placed our hands into the hands of Jesus simply say to him “I trust you with my life.” 

Right now that’s exactly whats going to pull me through this time, the knowledge of Christs love gained through prayer and Scripture, and my trust in him as my Lord and Saviour.

When I opened the Bible app on my phone this morning these were the words which greeted me from Hebrews 13:8

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

I rather think that this verse sums it up for me and I pray it will be a blessing in whatever season you are currently passing through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churchianity or Christianity

Here are two photos of Churches I’ve attended today, whilst on holiday in Cornwall. I put each photo on my Facebook page and its interesting to see what replies I got. In many ways its unfair as one was absolutely packed out for worship and the other was open especially for a Cornish cream tea with quite a few visitors and so the photos taken out of context don’t show the full picture and story (& I probably don’t know it anyway)

The first is of St Petroc Parish Church in Bodmin and the second is the Tubestation surfers Church in Polzeath.

What it has raised in my mind is the question, which is the ‘real’ Church?

No doubt to some the answer would be the first picture and that would be largely based on the beauty of the building, and it really was glorious, the pews, the wall decorations and I have no doubt the glory of the liturgy.

The Church in the second picture contained none of the above. The chairs were haphazardly arranged, there were settees at the front, with a skateboard park serving as the sanctuary area. There was no traditional liturgy, even for the Holy Communion and because of the sheer numbers who had to stand it felt gloriously chaotic !

My issue is, and it constantly comes back to me, is what constitutes a Church ? Now this is where I run the risk of being judgemental and I don’t want to so please don’t take this as putting one Church over the other. I can’t be accurate about it as St Petroc wasn’t during worship and we were very warmly welcomed, including our granddaughter Piper. However to many a Church consists of the furnishings, the style of the buildings and so on, whereas there was nothing attractive about the Tubestation. It even had its walls and ceiling decorated with surfboards ! The only outwardly attractive thing about the building was being able to smell the coffee and see the sea through the windows. Again an unfair comment, as I couldn’t see much else for the sheer number of

people in attendance. What is the difference between the Tubestation and any other building which calls itself a Church ? For me it’s simply the people. At St Petroc we were warmly welcomed, invited to take a table and when Piper wanted to play with the toys on offer there was no fuss and simply a generous hospitality shown towards Alison who sat amongst the toys. In fact the lady on duty took Alisons cream tea and two cups of tea to her ! If the rest of the Church is as gracious and hospitable as that lady was to us then it’s a good Church to me. At the Tubestation we were greeted by a lady who asked if we needed seats to sit on or could we stand: she had reserved four seats for those who would be unable to last the entire service standing. Again hospitality and welcome.

I’ve been in Churches where even as the preacher I haven’t felt welcome including one where the steward said at 5.55 p.m. (for a 6.00 p.m.) service, “Well. lets get on with it lad: sooner we start the sooner we can get it over with !” Didn’t make me feel welcome.

I’ve been in Churches where I was told not to encourage the children who like to dance, or Churches where I’ve heard loud tut-tuts at the slightest thing out of the regular order.

I’ve been in Churches where the offering method was changed at baptisms to increase income from the increased number of visitors, suggesting the finance was more important than the welcome.

Now both these Churches today will have their faults and having visited each only once it’s not for me to say how they function, and of course all places of worship have faults and failings, pro’s and con’s, good and bad. But I keep coming back to the words of Jesus who gathered his disciples and especially Peter together and said to them “Upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Now some translators especially point out that Peter means rock and I have heard it argued that it also means ‘little pebble’ although I’m doubtful about that translation and can’t even remember where I heard it. When Jesus declared that ‘I will build my Church” I don’t think he meant a physical building nor a religious denomination but a community of believers who would study his teaching, learn about him and emulate his lifestyle of love and forgiveness. He centres this statement upon Peter who has come to the conclusion that Jesus is the way forward, but it’s surely a comment also on all of humankind who choose to live the Christian lifestyle following the model teacher. Alternatively it could also be a declaration that followers need to be strong like rocks and that Jesus is building his Church on himself: followers therefore need to be strong in their faith in Jesus and in their belief that he is Lord and Saviour.

Whichever it is, or both, then its about people NOT about buildings or traditions. It’s not about religious dress, or style; it’s not about words but it is about people living out the words of Jesus in their lives, loving, caring, accepting, non-judging, forgiving, lifting up and encouraging others, see the potential in others and so , so , so much more.

It’s about being the people who see others through the eyes of Jesus, the giver of life; life in all its fullness.

The well dressed Minister !

 

 

Friendship connections

Just thinking about some good friends this evening.

Context…………..

Alison and I are currently on holiday but before we set off we heard of a good friend Christine, who had passed away. As we couldn’t be at her funeral we went at the same time to Truro Cathedral, lit a candle and spent time in prayer for her, her husband Colin and all their family.

As we entered the Cathedral we got a phone call saying that another good friend had passed away this morning. We first met Denise at Maple Leaf House when her husband Laurie had dementia. We’ve kept in touch ever since.

This evening we’re both remembering an Inner Wheel friend, Wendy, who passed away last year as this would’ve been her birthday today. Remembering her husband John.

Christine was originally a Sunday-school teacher of mine, although not many years older. She met and married Colin who was to become my best man at my wedding. All in all I’ve known her for over 40 years, and her kindness, generosity and her cheerfulness have been much to admire. Constantly concerned about how other people are, before herself.

Denise bore Laurie’s illness and eventually her own cancer with great fortitude and determination, she made the most of her life with cruises and holidays.

Wendy was the sort of person whose smile and laughter was infectious. Constantly laughing she too bore her cancer bravely and on my last visit to her was simply wanting to know how I was feeling.

(As we lit candles we also lit one in memory of Alison’s Dad, Les, who died in 2007.)

 

Whats the connections between these three folk who never knew each other ?

Firstly they all bore the hideous and awful illness we call cancer with bravery and remarkable fortitude; Secondly they all showed concern for other people regardless of how much pain they must have been in. Thirdly, they remained for me outwardly cheerful to the end, although I don’t doubt that in private it must have been so hard for them.

Fourthly, and most importantly, they were people of faith. Christine was the only one who went to Church, Denise and Wendy didn’t but they did receive Communion from Alison at home. In so many ways their faith shone out of them, churchgoers or not, and I think that it was their faith that enabled them to pass with dignity, peacefully, and inspirationally.

I will miss them all in different ways, but also remember them with love, affection and for their faith.

My prayers are with each of their families and friends

In remembrance of loved ones

Candles lit at Truro Cathedral today, including ours.

Conflict

Just a moment to vent some frustration in my life at the moment. I try to live my life to help others, to build them up, encourage and support for that is what I feel I’m called to do as a Christian and hopefully a decent human being. I belong not only to the Church (Circuit and District) but also I’m currently the President of the Rotary Club of Burton, a member of the Trustees of Burton Addiction Centre, a Trustee of the Transformation Trust as well as meeting people in my capacity of a Burton Albion supporter, a resident of Burton and so much more.

Why is it that there are times when I feel that others treat people with disregard, with contempt, overriding any thoughts about encouragement but only harbouring condemnation with their words and actions ?

Maybe I’m naive but I want to see the best in other people; however I feel that there is a mentality abroad that only looks for the mistakes in others. Those who look for the speck in the eyes of others and avoid the log in their own eyes (Matthew 7:5)

Reflections

How do we live amongst those who seek only their own aims and in so doing often put others down ?

I’m not sure I know the answer but what I do know is that Christ has called me to love others, in ALL, areas of my life and in order to do so it hurts, and I must be prepared to take that hurt. At those times when I’m tempted to tell others what I really think of them and when I’m tempted to tell them what they can go and do I have to hold myself back as it’s not what Jesus asks of me. Yes there is a place for righteous indignation and anger, when others are hurt and oppressed, but there is a place for love and forgiveness also. Others first, self last is I believe the God given model

I believe that the world would be a far better place if the ordinary man and woman in the street (that’s me) could learn such forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance. The picture below shows the words that are on our living room wall.

Oh, I long for the day…………