Where is the Church ?

Why is this bag so important ? A straightforward, paper carrier bag, seemingly ordinary and sitting on my car seat this afternoon.

Before I answer that question a little bit of context to my thinking. As the lockdown has continued over the months I discover more and more people are tiring. Within the country there seems to be less and less patience between folk, more intolerance, more frustration and confusion over the rules; are they guidelines or are they law ?

Those of us within the Church are experiencing the same thing; some folk thinking the Church should be back, others saying its too soon, some folk thinking that God is above Covid and therefore we should all be alright. Some folk thinking that Zoom worship is a part of the Church hierarchy’s determination to close the church down or that clergy are using it to avoid ‘real’ work. The very strong need to sing hymns, receive Communion and be a part of a fellowship are real issues that are bouncing around Church circles at the moment. Its brought with it feelings of frustration, isolation, strong opinions often based on want and desire rather than on theology etc,

The cry that the Church has closed down is extremely strong in some quarters (Interestingly in some cases from non-churchgoers)

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The accusation, so often, seems to be that because the Building isn’t open On a Sunday, or because we’re using electronic means then it isn’t proper Church.

So what’s this to do with an ordinary paper bag on the front seat of my car ? A perfectly reasonable question I think and perhaps it ties in with the question “what is worship, true worship ?” For many worship has always Been the hour on a Sunday, filled with hymns (as long as they’re ones we like) or prayers (but not too long) or sermons (again not too long) or fellowship (but only with folk we like or who agree with us). In other words we’ve created a worship of ourselves. It’s what we like, what we enjoy and God should fit in with us. Now, that’s very harsh and is a real sweeping generalisation I acknowledge; however if it’s not true it’s certainly a danger into which we all fall from time to time.

Is it what Jesus envisaged when he challenged the disciples and said to Peter “upon this rock I shall build my Church”. Did he really desire the Methodist 5 hymn sandwich, the Anglican liturgy, the bells and smells of ‘high’ church or was he referring to a community ?

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I believe that he was talking of community, of fellowship built on the model of Christ himself, of sacrifice of self in favour of others, of finding ways to help others receive the rich blessings of creation.

The picture alongside is of a lady I don’t know but I dare say the tattoos, the dark make-up, the mode of dress and the ‘spaced out’ look will offend some of us. However Jesus would be reaching out, loving and receiving, not judging. Maybe we’ve been getting it wrong for too long.

Maybe your impatience is getting the better of you and you’re still wondering (if you’re still reading), why a paper bag.

Well part of the routine for some of the folk from Churches together in Swadlincote is to spend Fridays serving the community. Alison joins a team of folk, Lay and Ordained, who spend a few hours cooking hot meals. I then join a team of drivers delivering the meals throughout the area, feeding those who for whatever reason have been referred to the project. All socially distanced, masked and within current guidelines. Today I’ve received smiles, expressions of gratitude from the people behind the doors of the houses I’ve visited, and a sense of serving others.

The ordinary, brown, paper carrier bag, to me, has become Symbolic of the Church in action. Where is God in this pandemic ? He’s in the action of his followers up and down the country carrying out incredibly important community work of loving and caring. To quote the famous 1960’s reference to Elvis Presley…… God has left the building. He’s at work electronically, in phone calls, in acts of worship on bits of paper, on TV Songs of Praise or radio recordings of worship, but his army of followers are galvanised to act in the way Jesus would have us act.

it’s why my friends Alex and Heather went to Romania to help, my friend Nigel who seeks to help migrants and especially those in Calais refugee camp, my friend Noreen who founded the Burton Addiction Centre, the staff and workers at Burton YMCA and many other places; it’s why I’ll be sleeping out in 5 weeks time for the homeless. Why Alison, others and I will continue to do what we can with a simple brown paper bag. Feeding those who need help.

WHY ? Because Jesus loved and goes on loving people.
The fire of the Holy Spirit burns on………..

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Sleep out, so that others don’t have to……

My 8th year of taking part in the annual Burton ymca sleepout to help them in their precious work will be Very different. Previously I’ve slept at the Pirelli football stadium in a cardboard box, in a local Church graveyard in a VERY soggy cardboard box, and in the YMCA village at the Pirelli in my one person tent. This year, because of Covid it’s being billed as a virtual sleep-out and so I’ll be sleeping in my garden (no cardboard box 🙁, but in my tent. I’ve just checked my sleepout total and I see that after two weeks I’ve only raised £51+ for Burton YMCA. Looks like it might be a low year 😢 but I Can understand that this year especially money may be tight so I ask that if you can’t give please pray for the event on November 6th when I’ll be sleeping out in my garden.

The link still remains as ………

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MikeRedshaw

 

Forgiveness

What or who has Shaped your life ? I’m sure that, like me, you will be able to name someone or something that so profoundly influenced you that your thinking or your lifestyle changed.

i remember the Enniskillen bombing, by the IRA, of a Remembrance Sunday parade in 1987. Most of my generation or older will recall the story of Gordon Wilson holding his daughter’s hand as they lay beneath the rubble of the explosion that would kill her and others.

It was only a few hours after the bombing that Gordon Wilson declared he forgave the terrorists, pray for them and asked that no one should seek revenge. “That”, he said, “will not bring her back.”

Apparently after the interview he and his wife, Jean, received many letters of support but also letters from folk who couldn’t understand his thinking and he even received letters condemning him for following the instruction of Jesus, (Matthew 18:21-22) of whom he was a dedicated follower. As a result, though, many Protestants and Catholic’s reached out to each other, avoiding bitterness and hatred Not only in Enniskillen but across the country. Even though the loss of his daughter, Marie, broke the lives of Gordon and Jean Wilson I’m reminded that it didn’t break their resolve to forgive.

i remember this vividly, as a young father of two girls (aged under 2 and under 1 years) thinking “how can he do that ?” At this point I’d been preaching several years, I’d led at least one mission in a different Church and yet I hadn’t taken the instruction from Jesus to heart. Why, ?

Because forgiveness is hard.

it involves deep hurt, anger at injustice, personal feelings: it can stir up past pain and memories and so much more………………if we let it !

Trouble is that not to forgive doesn’t take away any of those feelings but allows them to continue to fester and eat away at us. Resentment, revenge become the focal point for the shaping of our life. At the moment I’m sitting writing this at 6.00 am in a quiet room after a few days away with Alison and so I could be accused of whitewashing the whole subject of oversimplifying it all, but I return you to how I began this article. Who or what has shaped your life and it’s direction ? For me a major player in this (amongst many others) has been the story of Gordon Wilson. I learnt a lesson that day, reinforced many times since, that forgiveness is the way forward.

Like everyone else I get it so terribly wrong and I want others to feel my anger, my pain; I declare that I won’t speak again, take them off my Facebook/Twitter list, or on occasions pray to God imploring Him to “sort them out”.

However God keeps drawing me back to the Jesus I follow, who as he hung on the cross declared of his accusers and their lies, of those who had hammered in the nails and of those who had jeered “Father, forgive them; they know not what they’re doing”.    How can my perceived hurt compare to the one hanging there, the one on whose life I profess to model mine.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that forgiveness is all there is to it. Throughout the rest of his life, Gordon Wilson worked hard to bring reconciliation between people in Northern Ireland and when he came face to face with the terrorists they apparently apologised for killing Marie. However when he asked them to stop bombing and shooting, they refused. They too declared themselves followers of religion and here lies a distinction, between an organised institution (which we would call denomination, Catholic, Protestant etc” or the modelling of our lives on the one who gives direction, purpose, meaning to our lives.

Today, tomorrow, next week we’re all going to face situations where we have a choice over forgiveness: to forgive will hurt us (as did the nails for Jesus) but in the long run will bring peace and reconciliation in our lives.

 

 

Tradition or Ash worshipping ?

Whilst I’ve been in hospital and then at home I seem to have done a lot of reading and program watching. Of the latter I have followed a program about the Principality of Monaco, its lifestyle and riches etc.

A quote was made that intrigued me, by Princess Caroline of Monaco. She said (based on the subject of culture), “Tradition is the transmission of fire and not worshipping of ashes”. In my mind I keep returning to this quote and it has really set me thinking within the context of life and in particular the Church.

Why do we keep doing the same things over and over again and hide it behind the excuse of ‘tradition’ ? Probably a wide variety of reasons; comfortability, lack of imagination, habit, a genuine belief thats its the only way. I suggest that all of these reasons are involved and no doubt many more that I haven’t thought of.

Perhaps another question that we need to ask ourselves is why we don’t seem to like change and again the answers would be similar but this time we might add in reasons such as being out of control, uncertainty, fear of going wrong or of lack of success etc.

I was in the second year group of students when I was at college as our particular college had only begun in the previous year with 4 students and then 5 more (our year) were added.As we approached my first February in college one of the first group said that it was a college tradition for a first year to buy single red roses for every girl in the college (5) and I was deputised to do this. I can still remember standing in the florists in a black clerical shirt asking for 5 single red roses, individually wrapped, and adding to the potential scandal by saying “oh, and I’d better get one for my wife as well !” In my rush to carry out a college tradition I didn’t stop to think that it had only been ‘a tradition’ by one year and nor did I stop to think about its purpose. I was simply determined to carry out the tradition.

Sadly, we can be like that in Church life and it leads to splits straight down the middle taking away the beauty and potential for growth with the Church of Jesus, unless there can be graciousness and magnanimity between believers. As I look around often Churchmanship (styles, ways of doing things, instruments, hymns) depend on our own personal likes and dislikes. As a young Minister (and I was once) faith could be easily divided between evangelicals, charismatics, conservative Christians; between whether you liked guitars or organ playing, clapping or not, reflective or loud pumping dance music; your faith depended upon your taste in music. Rarely does it emerge out of a deeply held theology, in my view.

So how’re we to hod it all together, especially at a time like this when the covid-19 and lockdown seem to have conspired to create such tensions that folk are beginning to take sides ? “Lets get back to Church” say some while others are saying “Gods not only in a building”. Some are saying “we need communion” whilst others are saying “why ? surely every meal shared with and in remembrance of Jesus is communion in itself. Some are saying what about our good Methodist traditions such as “hymn singing”, coffee after fellowship and endless meetings/talking shops. At the moment many in Church life are fraught with the tension of how to move forward in this time of crisis.

Surely the way forward has to involve various things: Firstly it has to involve a recognition that all may have a valid point of view and no one should bully others into their way of thinking. Secondly, we are in a time of unprecedented crisis in the world and in the Church. No one was trained for this time and so some decisions will be right and some wrong, we’ll agree with those that suit us (or our preconceived ideas) and disagree with those that don’t–learn to live graciously with them.

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Thirdly, and most importantly we must seek Jesus as our model and our way forward. You see, to my mind, simply doing what we have always done and declaring it to be tradition is often (note I say often, not always) acting without thought, and an avoidance of truly seeking the will of Jesus. This is an important point as Jesus is just as powerfully at work in Catholic traditions as he is at work in protestant traditions etc. Its neither one nor the other but its about finding Jesus as the driving force within it. When tradition is simply continuing what we’ve always done then its like worshipping the ashes in a burnt-out BBQ. They can’t be relit, no matter how much we’d like them to be, they’re gone so why hang onto them. I much prefer the idea of tradition being like the fire that raged on Pentecost, that rages today, and the passing on of that fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit herself

We need to recapture that fire and let it take us to where God wants us and his Church to be, instead of hanging onto the pre Covid ashes, but of course the big question remains………. HOW ? how can we move on when many are simply wanting to get back to the comfortability of tradition or the security of the walls within which they’ve always worshipped, avoiding the fear of stepping out into the unknown. Simply one way. In the words of the old Gospel hymn “put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea”

Are you seeking the hand of the one who pulled Peter from the waters and brought him to the safety of the boat ?

Are you worshipping tradition with all is fire and heat or are you simply blowing on the embers of the dying flame ?

Grumpy old man (?)

Rocking the lockdown look !
 The t-shirt says Grumpy and Alison and I had a great day earlier this week when we were able to go and visit the FoxCubs (our grandchildren who we love dearly). As most of you know we used to spend our weekly day off looking after them, but we have missed their exuberance, enthusiasm, Pipers constant impression of a whirlwind and Emetts snuggles.

Now that certain aspects of lockdown are beginning to life we felt able to go across to see them, take the cubs out for half the day and give Mum and Dad a rest. Mums working from home so she could work in peace and Dad cracked on with getting the garden sorted where he’s doing a great job.

We had a lovely, exciting and certainly tiring afternoon at the local playground known as Pirate Park. Why am I sharing this ? Simply because we, like so many others, feel a certain completeness when we are with other people. Yes, some are very happy with their own company but most of us need that occasional contact with folk around us; families, friends, even relative strangers. This is one of the reasons that Social Media has taken off so successfully. Facebook, Twitter, Tic-Toc all key into our need for connectedness. I agree that much of it is rubbish, but its rubbish that connects us. Those that we are closest to aren’t simply there for our deep intellectual, theological or philosophical thinking. Its not academia or our IQ that holds us close. In all of humanity more conversation is about the silly, ordinary things of life for they are what matters to us. It is, however, also a forum where bigger topics can be shared and views aired, but I find that these inevitably generate a lot of heat and sadly abuse.

So, what does our current Covid-19 situation show us for we should all be wanting to learn throughout our life ? Well, its reminded me of the need to be with people and for that I give thanks for platforms like Zoom, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Life has become so dependent upon electronic connection; its not the same as being ‘with’ someone, a hug, a kiss, a handshake, but it gives us the chance to see a face and be reminded we are as one. Even as I type this I’m listening to evening prayers by a friend of mine Revd. Sally Coleman who leads prayers and reflections every evening through Facebook. They’ve challenged me and led me through this, but its Sallys generosity that has created them.

Covid-19 has taught me about the beauty of the world as I’ve been able to have the time I don’t always have, to go our for a walk. Simple pleasures which remind me of Gods creativity………. seeing the colours of the flowers, feeling the gentle warmth of the rain, watching

the Burton swans in a variety of places, seeing the cygnets and loving the peace that they bring. I have been reminded of the God who, as Genesis reminds us, created this world around us but also created us as well to be a part of this beauty. I have been reminded of the God who has made me (and all of us) in his own image. AWESOME !

I have been reminded of the creativity of the good Methodism folk who are seeking new ways of being Church, and not only electronically. the creation of a possible theatre based church,  a missional platform based around allotments, the helpfulness of neighbours and the kindness of the stranger seem to have broken out all around the world. Alisons Church involving itself in feeding those who cannot make their own meals for whatever reason, and serving those without through the food bank. Sadly, overshadowed by the bad news of riots, selfishness on beaches, conspiracy theories surrounding the virus and who initiated it (!), but nevertheless our Christian faith reminds us that “God wins” and his will be done.

AND now we begin to explore going back to Church; we’re exploring the logistics of how this could happen, social distancing, hand sanitisers, masks, cleaning of the building before and after worship, the maximum numbers who could attend, and the denial of drinks afterwards. We’re walking a necessary minefield but my prayer in all of this is that we don’t lose sight of the important things that God has spoken to us about, and I pray that we continue to seek out new ways of being Church.

Oh, and one more thing that this period has given me; impatience with any desire to simply return to what we had before, endless, pointless meetings refusal to be risk takers for the one who came out of Heaven and took a huge risk for us, Through the lockdown I’m aware that I’ve become grumpier and grumpier but hopefully only because my love and desire to see the world through Gods eyes continues to increase.

Take care, pray for your leaders, and pray that I may continue to be grumpy for God !!

Lockdown feelings

Now that we’ve reached this stage of the lockdown I realise that I’ve struggled for the last few weeks.

Now, don’t worry this isn’t a moan or a rant, but hopefully just an honest reflection of where I am, because if I can’t be honest with myself then I’m not being honest with God either.

And for several weeks now I don’t think I’ve been totally honest. When well-meaning folk have asked “How are you ?” I’ve responded in a way that too many folk respond and I’ve replied “oh, I’m fine Thankyou” when inwardly I’ve Wanted to say “no, I’m not fine, I feel rubbish”. I’m struggling with honesty at the moment, because I’m trying to be upbeat for everyone else and it’s hard not to be honest.

I know I’m not unique in this And part of my reason for getting this into the blog is the hope that by being honest will help someone else to be honest also.

In general i’m finding myself listless, quite often tired and without energy; some days when the sheer abundance of ‘down’ thoughts overwhelm I struggle to focus on things which adds to the constant feeling of guilt and the ever increasing desire to retire.

I’m not in depression, but simply low on more days than usual. Why ? I think like many the lockdown isolation has tugged away at my happiness and taken the edge off things. Alison and I were reflecting the other day and we agreed that she’s coping much better than me because she’s content with her own company. By contrast I’m a people person, who enjoys the crowd, working the room in a coffee morning, shaking hands and smiling with folk. I’m a performer by nature and love having people around me. Consequently at a time like this when my only social interaction with others (apart from Alison) is predominantly by electronic means I feel the loss of hugging, touching, bonding. I think also having to do everything electronically has added to the workload in a strange way. As most know we’re bringing together two circuits to start on 1st September, and all of the paperwork and legalities feel much more slow moving; As Superintendent I find myself resentful of the four month I’ve lost getting to know the South Derbyshire Circuit; I’ve also found stressful being the person many seem to look to for answers in this unusual season, and especially the current question of “when can we reopen?” Ive even faced the accusation of being a dictator for closing the churches (not the government or even the virus) as apparently I was the one who did it 🤷🏻. We’ve lost our holiday to Oberammergau, to see the passion play, and instead had a holiday at home visiting the local garden centres ! Added to this I’ve been worrying about my brothers health (and others), he has a dodgy knee. Alongside the knowledge that he has carried the bulk of the load of selling Dads house, which adds to guilt. Andrew really has been brilliant and I look up to him so much.

And yet even in my low moments there’s so much to be grateful for; I hadn’t been looking forward to Fathers Day this year, but I had the knowledge that I had something which some never have the privilege of being able to say. My brother and I have had two wonderful parents. That thought helped me on that day but alongside it came the Remembrance of a young man experiencing his very first Fathers Day. Over the years I’ve regarded Gareth as like a Godson to me (or a son, in some ways) and this year he’s learnt what it’s like to be a Dad. I enjoyed the day because of the love of my own daughters and the joy of Gareth, Charlotte and Brooke.

 

Today I received a card which lifted and encouraged me. A card with a picture of lilac on it. It came from an unexpected source; a lady I’ve known now for 24 years. inside she simply wrote words of encouragement and spoke of how she hoped this card would be my hug and some TLC.

 I have to tell you, it lifted my spirits no end. She recognised that I have my own support network of friends and family but hoped the card would be a further source of support, and it has been.

So, to all going through this pandemic with its low moments, it’s worries for further outbreaks, the loneliness of isolation and shielding, I just want to say God is in it with us in so many surprising ways.

Yesterday, I was a part of an online Bible Study group which looked at the 23rd Psalm and I was reminded of words that have carried people of faith throughout the ages. “The Lords my Shepherd, I’ll not want” (vs 1),  “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Vs 4), “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (vs 6).

 

i know that this pandemic will be overcome one day (although I grieve over the loss of lives) and we’ll truly see again how Gods working, so I’m not depressed and simply hoping that this will give at least one person the courage to say “actually I’m struggling” and then allow themselves to see their support network of friends, family and ultimately of God.

                  God bless you, keep safe, keep alert and keep trusting God.

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