More photos from the lockdown. May 2020

One of the privileges for me of this time is the opportunity each day is to go out  and exercise. As I’m aware that not everyone has that privilege I try to take a photograph each day to send to folk, but also so that in years to come we’ll remember That even in these dark days there was joy and light to be found.Photos from the lockdown d2

Unknown God

Still trying to get my head around this online service stuff. As a Circuit staff we’re producing the same worship material every Sunday at 10.00 am but delivering it on a variety of platforms, Zoom and FaceBook Live, in order to reach as many as possible.

 This is me on this mornings worship.

Notice the empty picture frame behind me. It’s not a sign that lockdown has so affected our finances that we’re selling off our ‘vast’ picture collection, but it was a product of trying to cut down on the volume of Pictures that we have in the Manse. As this weeks Scripture reading was from Acts 17:22-31 about Paul addressing the people of Athens About their ‘unknown’ God, it seemed appropriate to place the frame where it could be seen and pose the questions, “who is your unknown God” and “if it’s the Father we claim to worship, then that picture frame should be filled with things that reflect him” By that I mean our lives are the frame and the content should be love, care, compassion, goodness, peace and so on.

As we approach Pentecost next week we prepare by reflecting on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).

These are what should be in the picture frame of our lives, our reflection of God.

Lockdown photos & thoughts

I begin with a series of photos, of my daily exercise throughout this lockdown period.

Going out for exercise has led me into finding areas close to home that are vibrant, full of beauty and reminders of Gods creativity.

Also trying to cope brings out the humour in me as I reflect on the next images. The first is the free toilet roll we were given by a local farm for buying over £30 pounds of their farm produce: quite how we’re going to use that much on top of what we already have I don’t know ! I reckon we’re ‘covered’ for the rest of the year.

The next picture is of the queue outside a local supermarket, where we’ve all become accustomed to social distancing, a term that most of us were unfamiliar with 8 weeks ago. These, while they make me smile, are both stark reminders of how lives, routines, thinking has changed for all of us quite dramatically.
As we celebrated the turning of the year into 2020 who could have envisaged such a turn around in lifestyles ?

Its also changed working patterns for everyone; working from home, returning to previous nursing professions, retraining in those all important key areas, becoming fruit pickers because of furloughed jobs, and so much more. In my profession, although classed as a key worker, I’ve had to work from home for most of the day, coming to terms with technology, delivering services online and via Facebook live. Zoom has become an integral part of my life as meetings have moved online. Last Thursday I attended a virtual 102 member meeting. Zoom staff meetings and even my Rotary Club had 20 attendees yesterday.

It’s beyond me as to how some are coping without this technology. It’s become the only way we see our youngsters now as every afternoon we meet  the grandchildren. Piper has become au fait with video chatting and even with playing games with Grandma over the screen.

Returning to finding more time for reading, has led me into thinking which books I still need/want/reread/read. A great opportunity for refreshing my thinking as well as clear out ,

We’ve all become familiar with the Thursday ritual of clapping our support for the NHS and frontline workers (this is Burton hospital today) and we pray that we won’t forget the sacrifice too many have made.

So this is a little of how I’m coping, but what of tomorrow and the day after…… as the Government hint at beginning to lift some of the lockdown ? We get speculation of schools returning, sport resuming, of the over 70’s still being kept in lockdown for longer than any of us, BUT it still remains just that: speculation and until firm directions are given then we continue to journey in the unknown.

However I am reminded that 7 weeks ago yesterday was the last church service I took and it was in my home Church of Consett, the church where I came to faith, where Mum and Dad sat (in the same pew 😂) for all of their married lives and in Dads case where he gained so much comfort for the near 30 years of widowhood.

Why does that thought mean so much to me ? Because that morning I preached on Mark 6:1-13 “A prophet without Honour” but especially verses 8-13 where Jesus tells his disciples that in sending them out two by two they were only to take what they needed, no bag, no money, no bread and so on. God would provide. It’s not a simple, unrealistic instruction but one that reminds us God will give us our needs, not our wants.

A part of my prayer for this season is that people will take the opportunity to reappraise lifestyles, life choices; that we may take more time to enjoy the beauty of the world at a slower pace; that we may truly build communities again rather than a collection of houses never seeing each other. I pray that this will be a better ‘normal’ when life returns and a world closer to the normal God first created.

May God bless you, keep safe, stay at home if you can

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday

Good Friday, eh ?

I’m currently sitting here at 5.00 am on Good Friday morning reflecting on how Jesus must have felt on that same morning all those years ago. Photograph from my bedroom window

Last night, Maundy Thursday, he’d spoken of betrayal, denial; he’d been arrested in the middle of the night and taken away from his loved ones, isolated, on his own, spending the night in a dark, damp prison cell, possibly a rough hewn hole somewhere.

………………and now dawn breaks; the day that he knows will bring pain, suffering, death on the cross.

The day that will be dominated by the cross, looming large on Golgotha and casting its shadow over the already rigged show trial with Pontius Pilate, the absurdity of the presentation before Herod and the screaming of the mob.

The day which will conclude with Jesus hanging on the cross, nails having pierced his hands, his legs cruelly twisted to prevent him levering himself up in a desperate search for air to fill his lungs, his side pierced with a sword.

The day which would conclude with the cry of Jesus, “Father, it is finished !”

I wonder how Jesus would have felt that morning as the sun rose over his final day. Fear, anxiety – almost certainly for he knew human emotion – he was fully human after all BUT I also wonder if there was a sense of anticipation within him as he approached the day. “Yes, this is it. The day I’ve worked toward; the day of victory !” He was fully God also.

Truth is none of us really know and never shall know on this side of Heaven but we do know why this is GOOD Friday; because as Christians we believe that Christ laid down his life for humanity and that ultimately he showed us the way to live the life he first gave us. Today is GOOD Friday because it is the start of the final lap which brings us all the way to
.the Resurrection on what we now refer to as Easter Sunday.

Yes, for Christians today is a difficult day but amongst the difficulty is the knowledge expressed in the old song “it’s Friday, but Sundays a-coming” that Jesus has the victory.

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