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.

.