Covid-19 and the new normal

Dear friends I’ve avoided the subject so far as I fear many are getting fed up of it and I think that for some its creating a greater degree of anxiety.Of course Im talking about the Coronavirus, Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Its certainly a season of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, loneliness and none of us really know what to do as we’ve never been in this situation before.

Many have said to me that when we get back to normal it’ll be great; there’ll be celebrations and reunions, much rejoicing and sadly an extension of the grief that has arisen already in this time as folk have lost loved ones.

But what will be ‘normal’ ?                     A different pace to life, I hope so.                                                                               ..                                                            A greater desire to help one another, I hope so                                            ..                                                            A better appreciation of creation/nature, I hope so

I really do hope that all of the above come true, but I suspect that human nature being what it is will revert to type and carry on as if the virus had never happened. I know thats negative but I look at human history and its always been the way. Yes there will be some who will learn the lessons of care, support, community, less dependence on technology and an increase in love. However, sadly there will still be the opportunists looking for the fast buck, there will be those who seek protection for their future at the expense of others and there will be many others who will seek out the material over the spiritual. Sadly because we are a Church which encompasses all of society there will be some of these folk in our Churches as well.

We too will forget to go out and applaud our key workers, we too will start grumbling at the supermarket queues and at the things we haven’t got and so on.

No in order to assess what will be normal we need to be aware of the change that is occurring in so many places and in so many people. Although many will return to their sense of normal, the pursuit of money, promotion, better houses to live in, for others this is an opportunity to look at our own values, ethics, morals, lifestyles and to create a new and better normal.

Within Church it is the same; for years we have sought to get people into our buildings, but now that we can’t enter them we’re having to reassess what Church might be. When Jesus said to Peter “upon this rock I will build my Church…….” I don’t think he was referring to buildings but to communities; communities of believers seeking his way and his life.

And now here we are in that same place, having to decide what is the new normal for Church itself ? If we return simply to the same liturgies and to the same 5 hymn sandwich then we’re just rehashing that which has turned people away for the last 50/60 years +. I did an online Facebook reflection one Sunday and got over 180 people viewing it, far more than I would’ve got on a ‘normal’ Sunday. Now I’m not saying that we all have to rush out and join FaceBook but I am saying that there is a whole body of people out there just waiting to hear the Good News we have, but not necessarily in the way that we have known it and shared it.

Perhaps the new normal can be seen already in the way that some are caring and sharing, looking after the elderly praying for the key workers and we in the Ministry need to rethink and be allowed to rethink our Ministry. My son-in-law, Mark, asked our granddaughter this morning “what do Grandma and Grandad do ?” to which she replied “to stay at home” When he asked what were our actual jobs when we’re not at home, her answer was “to be good and then stay at home”. The wisdom of a four year old carries so much truth. Perhaps the Church has robbed many of us of our real calling, because we have to spend time on structures and on maintaining that which much of structure seems to be rejecting, when God is saying “NO, this is the way I want Church to go”

When I first felt called to Burton I was asked to spend time in the town centre building a church ‘without walls’. I spent a lot of time walking the streets, sitting on benches, drinking coffee, and simply talking to people about who I was and what I was doing. Sadly that was lost for a variety of reasons but the main one was because Church demanded so much of my time that conversation about Jesus, which we should all be engaged in, was lost. I’d love to regain the time for that thinking outside of the box when our new Circuit (East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire) begins but in order to achieve that folk will have to let go of the old normal and begin to embrace a new normal which will be multi-shaped, have a whole different ways of doing things but at its heart will have the unbeatable combination of ‘other people’ and Jesus.

To put it another way, a community which cherishes people more than the building, which seeks to promote the gifts of all people rather than just the privileged minority, which seeks to see the best in everyone from the Priest and preacher to the prostitute and drunkard

Now when the Church becomes like that it is truly a place where Jesus is at its heart and for me thats as it should be.

Thats the normal I find myself praying for at a time such as this.

May God keep you and your loved ones safe as you too seek the new normal

Wow ! what a weekend

I’ve just got home after a weekend of emotion. My home Church at Consett was celebrating its 50th Anniversary this weekend, and had invited me to preach at its celebration service. Consequently I travelled up on Friday to stay at a B&B near Dads house so that I could continue to help my brother who is carrying out the last of the clearance.. Sadly his long standing (?) knee problem flared up and he was committed to bed, and so unable to be with me. Because I was committed to the weekend celebrations I was limited to how much I could help with the house, as I wanted to see Andrew as well.

As to the weekend itself, the Chapel celebrations yesterday were wonderful as they mounted an excellent exhibition of memorabilia and lots of folk turned out to view; I was able to meet with old friends, all the time elbow bumping rather than handshakin

Judas from “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1990)

g (the more adventurous tried heel bumping !); remind myself of great memories of my time in the Boys Brigade as an officer, my Sunday-school days, my Mum and Dad in many photos, and above all else my time in the Chapel drama group, as Judas Iscariot or as a dying miner lying on the front of the stage staring at the audience two feet away with the immortal line “I’m dying” and trying to keep a straight face.

I remembered the time in the youth fellowship where I came to faith and ultimately fell for Alison; the time the Chapel supported me as a young preacher and supported me in my Ministerial training and have done since. I looked at the congregation and in my heart I gave thanks for the faces I knew and owed so much to and I gave thanks for the empty spaces where I knew who had sat there in years gone by, including my Mum and Dads empty seats. As you can imagine it was quite emotional but I’m really grateful to have been there this weekend; I was extremely conscious that it may be my last time , as with Dad gone the pull will never be the same, but I really hope it isn’t.

At the same time I was receiving texts and emails from a variety of folk about what to do re Sunday worship and weekly meetings within Church and within my Rotary club where I’m tomorrows speaker. Real concern over the thoughts coming from Government level about folk over the age of 70 having to self-quarantine for a period of time; as most of my Rotary Club and many of our Churches are populated by that age group it is a real concern as to what to do. My telephone advice was if a Church chose to close today I would support them 100% but I’ve called an urgent staff meeting tomorrow to try and get a more structured response across the Circuit.

Covid-19 is a real concern across the world and I feel that Churches need to be at the forefront of the battle against it, but how ?

Firstly, by being aware of the ever-changing scene and by following the advice coming from Government, especially about regular hand washing, using tissues and then binning them or if you dont have a tissue using your sleeve.

Secondly, by our pastoral visitors using telephones, emails, skype, FaceTime to conduct visits rather than doorstepping.

Thirdly, by prayer. Its interesting that Donald Trump has called a national day of prayer in America (genuine or political, who knows, but does his motive matter ?) and this is something all members of our Churches can do; Not gathering fro prayer but praying in our own homes for an end to the pandemic, praying for those who’ve lost loved ones and for those who are ill, and praying for protection over everyone.

You may have other thoughts about all of this but it has dogged my weekend as I’m sure it has yours. Even in the midst of joy there is a sadness to be felt; for me its been the joy of friends at home and the sadness of people. being fearful and suffering the world over.

The national Methodist Church on its website offers advice and also worship resources for those who have self-isolated either by choice or by virtue of age. Amongst its words is the reminder that We should not be afraidFor God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  2 Timothy 1:7.

Prayer

God of all hope we call on you today.
We pray for those who are living in fear:
Fear of illness, fear for loved ones, fear of other’s reactions to them.
May your Spirit give us a sense of calmness and peace.

We pray for your church in this time of uncertainty.
For those people who are worried about attending worship.
For those needing to make decisions in order to care for other
For those who will feel more isolated by not being able to attend.
Grant us your wisdom.

Holy God, we remember that you have promised that
Nothing will separate us from your love – demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ.
Help us turn our eyes, hearts and minds to you.

Amen

Who am I ?

I’m close to taking a funeral for a very good friend within the next few days, and I’m currently growing (?) a moustache. Whats the connection ?

Quite simply that my friend (and Alison agrees) doesn’t like it, and I’m not even sure that I suit it either, but I’ve always wondered what I would look like with a full blown ‘ache.  Alison always says whenever I’ve tried that “its like kissing a loo brush !”  I have no idea how she knows !

Its almost certain that I’ll be clean shaven soon for I value friendship and more so I value Alisons opinion, alongside the family who many years ago christened any fur on my top lip as ‘Clarence the hairy caterpillar’. However it raises the question of what do I wear or what do I look like.

Many years ago, in my teens,  I grew my hair long in order to hide my hearing aid and fit in; I grew to like my hair down to my shoulders but fashions change and so it was shortened again but just enough to still hide the aids (now up to two). I feel so much more conscious of them and it accentuates my sense of deafness.

Several years ago I discovered the beauty and comfort of crocs ; since then I’ve been both criticised and cheered by a variety of people who either love them or hate them. Whilst I admit they aren’t elegant they are extremely comfy and surely that counts for something. Lately I’ve taken to wearing moccasin style crocs and find its commented upon by both haters and lovers !

Similarly I have a tendency to wear brightly coloured waistcoats, few of any which fasten, and now I find comments being made if I don’t wear them or if I’m not wearing the brightly coloured clothes I enjoy wearing. Often the comments range from the statements of “thats not suitable for a Minister” to “you’re a trendy Vicar (!)” or “its good that you dress so badly (??)”

 This is no ones fault but it is a result of expectations fuelled by the media and the way that most of us have been raised: just look at old black and white photos of church activities, men in suits, ladies in bonnets and in the background. I think these expectations have seeped into societies sub-conscience and many of us fall for its trick.

The waistcoat Im most proud to have worn 

When I first came out of college I dressed very soberly; nearly always clerical shirt and suit, grey or black shirt. I wasn’t unhappy about it but gradually came to realise that God had called me to be who I am. In other words to ‘be me’. However I’m still assailed by peoples opinions of what a Minister should or shouldn’t look like. Interestingly I find that its usually some of the folk in Church who are liable to have a more negative opinion and the ones outside of Church who are positive and even complimentary.

Do we judge each other too much by our clothes and appearance more than by who we are, by our character, or morals, our graciousness etc ? One of my favourite theologians wrestled with this, his doubts and fears during his time in prison, where he was held and eventually executed for opposing Hitler; he in powerful book “Letters from prison” he spoke of how he must appear to others as if their views should matter to him. Ultimately he wrote the following poem entitled “Who am I ?”

Who Am I?       by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me how
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

 

I love the certainty of that last line for it speaks so much truth. No matter what others think of me, of my poor dress sense, or my raggedy hair, of my, sermons or services, of my lack of organisation, I KNOW that I belong to God and right here at the start of Lent I KNOW that he came to earth as Jesus to die for this world, and that includes ME.

.

 

 

 

Lets go to Heaven or should we ??????

Last week I, and many others attended the District bi-annual retreat at Swanwick Hayes Conference Centre; challenging and uplifting time. Many quotes were used in one of the sessions which was entitled “Good News for Others”

This was one of the quotes that set me thinking about my position as an evangelical Christian within the Methodist tradition; I can remember watching a TV western movie with Mum and Dad and towards the end the hero was shot and I burst into tears. I don’t know why, perhaps because I’m an emotional person or because it was perhaps my first real point of contact with death (albeit in fiction). Mums way of dealing with it was to instruct Dad to “go and get the book”. The ‘book’ contained a beautiful picture on its rear fly pages of paradise. Literally a picture of the lion and the lamb together in a beautiful colourful and sunny garden scene, with people of a variety of colours walking around talking and smiling. The fruit trees were full of fruit and everything looked idyllic. For many years after I developed the idea that this is what Heaven would look like and therefore my role in my Christian journey was to prepare myself and others to strive for Heaven.

This quote turns that on its head, for it denies the puritanical argument that creation is essentially sinful and wrong; it overturns the idea that we can earn brownie points for Heaven; it certainly rules out universalism. All of these ideas and more can be found in a variety of evangelical thinking.

However, originally evangelical thinking was about making a difference in this world; the old quote of “so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use” is quite an accusation to be made so what difference do we make. I once knew a lady who thought it right and proper to help people who were good and upright, which implied that anyone who didn’t match her criteria were to be avoided or left on their own. Sadly, I never managed to persuade her that all people are equal and of equal need at some point in their lives, whether that be physical or spiritual. Sadly I come across many who are like that, selective in their help, and yet if N.T.Wright is correct in this quote then its about so much more.

God came out of Heaven to reach out to humankind, showing love, kindness, patience, forgiveness; despite what humankind may think it isn’t about us striving for Heaven because that implies a) that we can and b) thats where God wants us to be. NO, its about God taking the first step, the initiative, and reaching out to help us with the expectation that if we’re going to be His followers we will want to reach out to others in their need. That might indeed be spiritual in which we help them on their journey of learning about God, but its also about helping those for whom this life is difficult. The soup kitchen, the food bank, the kindly word, the smile, the help for the homeless, the compassion for the immigrant refugee are all examples of how we can bring Gods standards into the world. Jesus came to proclaim the Good News of Gods love; our job is to share it and bring hope to others

 

Relationship in Worship

As a result of focussing in yesterdays Church worship about the nature of discipleship and recognising how special we are to God, I’ve found myself sitting in an empty Church today reflecting on what worship is all about. Why do we bother when often it seems to be routine and “we’ve always done it this way.”

It strikes me that so often worship boils down to peoples preference over hymns, Graham Kendrick vs Isaac Watts, whether we are solemn or loud, arms length and never speaking or all hugging and touchy~feely !  And yet there must be more to worship than this.

`Worth-ship` is about giving God what he is worth; its about what he enjoys or wants and yet so often we personalise it back to what we want. I don’t think that this is necessarily about selfishness but it’s probably because its much easier to know what we want and its hard to know what God wants in worship.

I came across this definition from a friend……………………………     “The nature of worship is simply a recognition and encounter with God. The Hebrew seems to have a root derivation of, “To kiss.” If worshipping is as intimate as kissing, then arms length formal worship may actually at times not be worship at all. I think we have to turn to the language of Song of Songs. Very intimate and powerful imagery. So dare I say that worship is being in love with God. Expressing our love and receiving it from our God.”

If worship is about being in love with God then surely there will be different expressions of worship as each one of us is a different character who expresses him/herself in different ways. We will all have different ways of expressing our love to God.

I like the idea of worship as being an intimate act between myself and God, even if its conducted in a public arena and with countless numbers of people. As always it boils back down to relationship. How much of a relationship do you want with God as opposed to one with Church, with the hymns, the routine, the activities ?

Tonight I offered Alison the chance to walk over to where I was sitting on the grounds that exercise was good for her health; when she got to me I said, in a loving romantic way, “give us a snog !” it may come as a massive relief to all my readers that its not a request I would make of any other person, but I can with Alison because she knows I love her and because over 38 years of marriage we’ve built a wonderful, loving relationship. Now, I’m not going to be so irreverent as to suggest that we should ask God for a “snog” but surely we should desire such a relationship where we can come before him with total honesty knowing he accepts us and welcomes us. That is relationship and I, for one, want to grow more in my relationship with Alison and in my relationship with God.

Things always come in threes !

Things always come in threes, so they say, Ive always dismissed it as utter and complete tosh, but lately Ive begun to wonder; just before Christmas our washing machine broke and thanks to the generosity of church members our washing was carried out faithfully, and although we have got a new washing machinate firm won’t fit it as they think its too tight a squeeze even though its about an inch thinner than the one being removed. Consequently we’ve a carpenter coming to look at it in the morning with a view to altering the bench.

Then last weekend the drainage in the front yard began to smell and water was backing up. We had to call a firm to come and clear the blockage, on the day I was travelling up to the North-east so I was able to leave the mysterious message on Facebook that I was “leaving Alison to sort out the sewage”

Today incident number 3 has happened, as our dish washer has decided to leak all over the kitchen floor which looks like a war zone ! If the superstition is true then we’ll be left alone for a while, but we’ll see. As it is this has been a costly winter so far, in terms of finance (new washing machine) and certainly in terms of time.

In the midst of it all the Chair of District and I had a chat yesterday I which we felt that because of the workload (2 Circuits, supervision of a Probationer Minister, running up to

the NorthEast and other District duties) then for the sake of my health I should step aside as Deputy Chair with a review next January. This has saddened me no end for I will miss the District team with whom I worked, I’ll miss the conversation at District Executive, and the fellowship of those I met around me. It has been a tremendous privilege serving the District and working alongside Loraine, our Chair, who. has constantly shown good pastoral care for Alison and I, and also to learn from the skills of the rest of the office based team.

I have received a huge volume of emails and texts from around the District expressing thanks and appreciation.

Little wonder that our lives feel a bit like the jigsaw in the photograph at the moment !

Totally black and with no light to help reveal the design of the jigsaw, it must be a nightmare to cope with.

I’ll still have a District role in so much as I’ll continue to share the District EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) team; again another talented group of individuals who all bring their skills to bear, and once again I’ll learn so much from them.

However, tonight I still feel bereaved, but it’ll pass.

As I recognise that what I’ll miss most are the people it has made me realise more fully than before that for me, I find the light in a dark world in meeting and sharing with other people; that interaction is what stirs me, uplifts me and inspires me; other people show me the way by their tolerance of me, their support and their generous friendship.

When the world looks really bleak and black, it is easy to hide away but if its possible the best thing to do is try to be amongst people. Sadly the nature of depression (which

thankfully I dont have) is that its too wearying, tiring, mentally exhausting to seek out company or to get ‘out and about’, so perhaps its down to us to be the light in their darkness by simply coming alongside them and being the light in their darkness.

Just a few rambling thoughts; thanks for reading

 

Happy New Year

Saturday January 1, 1785. —

Whether this be the last or no, may it be the best year of my life!                                   John Wesley.

Very struck by these words as we enter into the year 2020 after one of the hardest endings to a year I’ve known. I know a lady whose view on life is that it is so serious there shouldn’t be time for fun and frivolity-theres work to be done-theres a routine to be kept etc. I think we’ve al known people like this. I tend to favour the opposite view; life is so serious you need to find the fun and frivolity to get through it !

The truth of the matter is that its somewhere in between both, but I’m of the opinion that we can either let life pull us down, or we can bow our heads bear against the wind style and plough on. Please note this isn’t an opinion on those folk who genuinely have to live with depression, but its more about those who have an off day and declare that life is terrible !

This year Alison and I are seeing in Hogmanay in a very different way; we’re babysitting ! And let me tell you it’s the best one yet !

I remember the days of our youth when as a gang we used to kick the evening off in the Grey Horse pub at about 6.30 pm, go onto someones house (usually whichever couple had got married that year) for a buffet and to drink the New Year in. At about 12.30 a.m. we’d set off and go around everyones houses, first footing (wonderful Scottish tradition) ending up back at the home of Alison and I at about 6.00 a.m. where I’d cook breakfast for whoever was still standing ! Going back further I can remember Dad being kicked out of the house by Mum at about 11.55 p.m. so that after 12.00 had struck and the new year started, Dad could first-foot us  bringing with him the traditional piece of coal (to give us warmth), salt (to give our lives flavour) and a coin for the kiddies (so we’d always be wealthy). Of course the first-foot always had to be a tall, dark, handsome man and Dad qualified entirely. When Alison and I moved away, Dad was always our first foot whenever he came to stay, and as you’d expect I’ll be thinking of him at midnight.

However until then no party games as before, no board games as before, Alison is currently upstairs looking after Emett and I’m downstairs with a Pernod and lemonade. We might not even see each other again this year , lol.

But even though its the quietest new year Ive known, and after the toughest Christmas I feel that I can still look forward to 2020. Why ? because I’ve spent my time reflecting on the treasure I have………………….

A beautiful wife, Alison, who I adore, a fantastic family in Rebecca, Vicky,

Michelle, Mark and of course the FoxCubs asleep upstairs, Piper and Emett. What more could I ask for. I add to this my wider family of Andrew, Cath, Stuart, Sue and all their family. I think on all the friends I have, Judith, Alison W, Stuart, Caroline and so many more ranging from across the world in Romania (must get out there in 2020) to here on the doorstep.

I reflect on how supported I am in the Church from Loraine to each and every steward in my circuit/church teams who without question allowed me to take time off following Dads passing.

I think of how their support helps me in my Ministry and in my health issues, especially over my hearing. I give thanks for the care and patience people show me; today I’ve given thanks for the audiology unit here in Burton for the new hearing aids I’ve been given and for the care with which I was treated. I also give thanks for Becca, our District Wellbeing Officer, who by her words and care lift my spirits.

I could go on listing all the blessings I have but the list would take too long and you’re probably bored already. Suffice to say I am, most of the time a glass half-full person, who has the occasional blip which is forgiven and forgotten by those around me; and its for all these reasons I feel that I can step out confidently into 2020 and try to live each day as if its my last but best. I believe that as long as I’m still breathing God has a purpose for me (even though I often miss it) and if he’s supplying the breath then I don’t want to waste it.

Finally, my thanks to you for faithfully following this blog (some of you since 2007); it serves to remind me of how blessed I truly am.

Happy New Year