Bev's monthly blog
I can’t believe I am sat here writing a letter for the March newsletter – how did we get here so quickly! The weeks seem to be flying past faster than ever.
It is actually just the beginning of the 2nd week of February as I write, but so much seems to have happened in these first 6 weeks - we have met as a Circuit for our Circuit Vision Day on a Saturday in January, we have had our Healing on the Streets Training weekend, and have also been out into Aldridge since, and we have begun our ‘Talking Jesus’ discussion group. And also during that time, both of my parents have been poorly and I have spent some time looking after them. Whilst many people be-moan modern technology, I was incredibly grateful for remote working, and having a beautiful view from my temporary office on my parents’ kitchen table. It was also a chance for me to hone my soup making skills – whoever invented Soup Makers is an absolute genius!
For some of you, the last 6 weeks have been a painful time, emotionally and / or physically, as you have waited for test results, undergone treatment, journeyed with a loved one facing uncertainty, and coped with bereavement. As we know, our journey through life is full of both good times and not so good times. Having faith does not guarantee us an easy ride.
There seems to be a new trend around, it may be something that you have heard about, ‘Escape Rooms’. An Escape Room experience is for a group of people to race against the clock to solve clues, unlock padlocks and escape from the rooms within 60 minutes. Actually, it’s not that new an idea, as I can remember a TV programme with Aneka Rice that did something similar as a competition among two teams. I think it was called the Crystal Maze. I guess an Escape Room experience would actually be great fun, especially when done with friends and not as part of some team building management exercise where you know you are being watched and assessed. So yes, Escape Rooms I get. But I was really shocked when I discovered a new type of room called the ‘Rage Room’. The advert says: ‘Get rid of tension during a 30-minute session in a rage room, where you can smash and destroy various objects.’ You have a choice of a regular experience or a deluxe experience. With the deluxe you have more objects to smash! What will they think of next, and what message does this give? Are we being told that it’s ok to go around smashing things up to get rid of our tension. How about going for a walk and appreciating the beauty of nature, or for a run, or playing sport. Or how about finding faith and offering all that tension to God.
At our Circuit Vision Day we shared our faith stories with a small group, and we considered what we would like our church to be. A group of five of us shared our faith stories, and each of our stories were different, emphasising that we can all encounter God and find faith at different stages of our lives and in completely different ways. One of the other things we did was to thinking about our own church and complete a sheet of paper that had the words ‘The Church I See is……’. Although people had used different words, the vision that all the churches had was incredibly similar. For Aldridge we had:
The Church I see is…..
I invite you to give some thought to this. What would your answer be to the question ‘The Church I see is…’ Please do let me know what you think.
We are doing ok on some of the points above, but not so well on others.
Healing on the Streets (HOTS) is one of the ways we are working ecumenically to bring God to our community. The weekend of training was hosted here at Aldridge Methodist Church. Friday evening and Saturday morning began with worship led by the music group from St Thomas’s. There was a real sense of the presence of God in worship and over the whole weekend. Over 80 people attended the training, including two groups who already carry out HOTS in Wolverhampton and the Black Country. On the Saturday afternoon, 65 of us went into Aldridge, outside Costa Coffee, put out 6 chairs, put up a banner, played the gentle music through the speaker, and then knelt to pray. I cannot put into words how moving it was to be part of such a large group kneeling outside Costa, praying for God’s spirit to come. To kneel, on a Saturday afternoon, amongst shoppers and pray as a group of Christians was something I have never experienced before and was something incredibly powerful that I will never forget. It was also a privilege during the afternoon to be able to kneel and pray with people and offer them the reassurance that they are loved by God. That is something we all need to hear. It is something Jesus heard as he was baptised in the river Jordan – ‘you are my beloved’. Maybe if people knew they were loved by God, they wouldn’t need to find Rage Rooms to get rid of all their tension.
As followers of Jesus we have been tasked with sharing God’s love. HOTS is one way of doing that. Talking about Jesus to our friends and families and people we work with and people we encounter is another way of doing that. By the time you read this we will have almost finished our ‘Talking Jesus’ discussion group and will be feeling more confident and equipped to share our faith. Have a chat with someone who attended and maybe it will encourage you to join one of our discussion groups.As you read this, we will be approaching Lent. During Lent there will be another discussion group and we will be following the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland Lent Course called The Mystery of God, which delves into the mystery of God, seeking to rediscover what it is that draws us so deeply in our search for God. We will follow Jesus through the Lenten readings, allowing him to draw us, in love and wonder, into the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. If you have never been to one of our discussion groups, then please give it a try. Come a spend an hour and a half on a Thursday afternoon learning more about God and more about yourself – it will be worth it!
A prayer for Lent by John Birch
days alone, a wilderness of thoughts,
tempting and inviting thoughts,
which could so easily have distracted you from your task, your mission, your vision.
Yet you emerged, stronger and more attuned to all that had to be done,
despite a time constraint that to our eyes would have seemed hopeless.
We too live in stressful times.
Demands are made of our time, that leave so little for the important things of life.
We are easily distracted in the wilderness of our lives, by every call to go this way or that,
to turn stone to bread, leap from mountains, and do all that would keep us from the truth.
We listen to the voices of this world, and ignore the one who endured all this and so much more,
and emerged triumphant, that we might not have to suffer so.
Forgive us, Father,
when we get distracted from our task.
Forgive us those times when we try to be all things to all men,
and fail to be anything to anyone’
My prayer is that you will use this time of Lent to deepen your relationship with God, to resource yourself, so that you are better able to fulfil God’s calling to share God’s love in this world. Every blessing, Bev xx
It has been a very poignant and thought-provoking weekend. In the morning I took part in the Remembrance Service at the War Memorial. In the afternoon, I spent time walking down Poppy Road, and reading the stories of the men who had left their homes on Station Road to go to war. If they had not returned, there was a black silhouette outside their home and if they had returned, there was a picture of a silhouette in the window with their name. What really impacted on me was that in some families three sons went to war, but not all of them came back. I cannot imagine what the weight of grief must have been, not only in those homes, but on the street. I then went to look at the crosses by the war memorial. There was one 2ft high white cross for every man named on the war memorial. The front of the cross showed their name and dates, and on the back of the cross was a short history.
Visiting Poppy Road and looking at the crosses has made me realise just how important telling the stories of these men is. When we hear the individual stories, it brings what happened to life in a very real way. We become more involved and impacted by what we hear and it makes us want to learn more.
We are entering the season of Advent and turning our eyes towards the coming of Christ at Christmas. That is another story that we should be telling, and we should be telling it in such a way that it brings the story to life and makes people want to engage with the story, understand the story, and want to learn more. For so many people Christmas is about shopping, parties, eating too much & spending too much. We need to ensure that we make people aware of why the story of a baby in a manger, shepherds wisemen and angels is so important. It is a story of hope and survival. It is a story of peace and goodwill. It is the story of family. It is a story of humility. It is a story that was foretold. But above all it is a story of love. It’s a story that needs to be shared and shared and shared.
There were thousands of babies born
all helpless, dependent,
needful of love, warmth and sustenance.
Some no doubt did not survive to see another dawn
their tiny light extinguished through lack of appropriate care.
Some would grow up to be kings, queens, leaders of men
others slaves, prostitutes, beggars, murderers and thieves.
Most however would live ordinary lives, among ordinary people
and live and die whilst the world scarce noticed their existence.
But not you
who rose from the ordinary to the extraordinary
from stable to cross
whilst the world tried its best
to ignore you
Have a blessed, joy and peace filled Christmas and enjoy sharing the amazing story of the tiny baby, God incarnate, who came and changed the world.
I have just stood with Matt on the edge of the water, where the tide has just turned, and watched the sunset. I remarked to Matt how stunning it was. He said ‘but look at those grey lines’. And there, right in the midst of the most beautiful deep pink coloured cloud were grey streaks, indicating that somewhere in the distance it was raining. When we turned around to look at the light in the other direction, we saw a rainbow in the distance.
It has reminded me that whilst for some of us life might at the moment be filled with light and beauty, for others it is a place of darkness and uncertainty. The wondrous colours of the sunset were reflected on the water, which was incredibly still and calm. And I guess that what I have seen this evening is a reflection of what our lives are like. We do have times when we experience the most amazing joy and happiness. Today, Dave and Elaine were married here at church. For them and their family and friends it was a day of love and tenderness, where the world seemed bright and full of colour, a day of laughter and joy. For others, it would have been just another ordinary day, with nothing out of the ordinary to report. A day where all was calm. Yet for others, it has been a day where they are coping with news that they really did not want to hear.
When someone said to me, ‘have a good break’, I knew that I would, because this is a place where I feel God very close and where I glimpse God in the beauty of creation. And it is where I have come to know that God is with us always, not just in those moments of incredible happiness and joy, but also in the everyday and the mundane, and even more so in those moments of darkness and uncertainty, it’s just that we don’t always see it.
Having a break over the summer provides the time and the space to glimpse God. It provides the opportunity to spend precious time with family and friends. It’s a good time for strengthening relationships. And that’s what God wants for us, to be in relationship with each other and to be in relationship with God. By the time you read this it will be September and the kids and their teachers will be getting ready to go back to school for the start of a new academic year. Some people will be beginning new things in new places. September can be a time of uncertainty and anxiety after the freedom of the summer. But remember, God journeys with you into those new beginnings, and those new situations, and God journeys with you in the mundane.
Peace within by St. Therèse of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Avila
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to
sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us. Amen
For Times of Transition by Joseph P. ShadleGod of Love, You are with us in every transition and change.
I am sat here on the balcony of our hotel room, watching the sun setting not only on the day, but also on our holiday. It has been a perfect two weeks. The hotel has been lovely, the weather has been brilliant, but the best thing of all has been spending precious time with family, uninterrupted by the every day things of life. It feels as if this time has been a gift.
What will my most precious memories be? Well they include:
But I think what I loved the most was having time to chat together, sharing stories and memories and hopes for the future.
I have come back feeling incredibly grateful for a wonderful much needed break. Our Chair of District wrote this prayer the evening before her holiday:
‘A prayer for over-busy people
I'm spinning so fast
my feet don't touch the floor
God of silence, of stillness, of
help me to return to earth that,
by so doing
I may take time to lift my eyes to heaven’
I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to slow down and lift my eyes to heaven. I pray that may be your experience too.
I am writing this just a few days before what is being branded as ‘the wedding of the year’. On Saturday, Prince Harry and Megan Markle will be married. Hopefully it will be an occasion that will lift the country and bring the community together. There have been hundreds of applications to local councils for permission to hold street parties and the BBC has waived the licence fee so that the wedding can be screened at special events.
I have memories of attending a street party for the Queen’s silver jubilee and receiving a special silver jubilee coin. I also have memories of Charles and Diana’s wedding. We were away on Scout Camp and my dad arranged for all the ladies who helped on camp, and their daughters, to watch the wedding in a private room in a local hotel – it was a total surprise and a wonderful day.
So, what will I be doing when Harry and Megan get married? I’ll be running around a hockey pitch in Bordeaux in France at an over 50s hockey tournament. I will have to wait until I get home on Monday evening to see any of the wedding.
I have found some of the preparations very interesting. Megan Markle has, in the run up to the wedding, been baptised and confirmed, reportedly at the request of the Queen. Special care has been taken in choosing who will preach at the wedding. At the suggestion of the Archbishop of Canterbury it will be the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the first black presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. The Archbishop described Bishop Curry as a ‘brilliant pastor and stunning preacher’. Speaking after his role was announced on Saturday, he said ‘the love that has brought and will bind Prince Harry and Ms Megan Markle together has its source and origin in God and is the key to life and happiness.’ It is likely that millions of people across the world will watch the wedding and so my prayer is that this ‘stunning preacher’ will be able to speak in such a way that he will touch people’s hearts and that through what he says they will come to know that God is a God of love and will open their lives and their hearts to him. All this careful planning expresses for me that this wedding isn’t just about the dress and the guests and the wedding banquet, it’s about the promises that Harry and Megan will make to each other in the sight of God.
The Sunday Worship yesterday was entitled ‘A celebration of Faith and Relationships’. Canon Ed Newell said ’The bedrock of any marriage – royal or otherwise - is love. Love is a small word that can mean so many wonderful things. At the outset of married life there’s likely to be a strongly romantic dimension to that love. Then, in time, hopefully a deeper, more profound form of love will develop, when a couple become so much more than two individuals.’
‘Becoming so much more than two individuals’ was also something Canon Ann Easter also referred to when she said ‘there is no doubt that the right partner can bring out the best in us… we each have a duty and a joy to grow, and keep on growing, into the person God has made us to be, and I think we do that best when we have others around us to love, support, challenge and comfort us through the triumphs and the tragedies, the grief and the glory that is our life here on earth. We wish them every richest blessing; courage and clarity of vision to live out their commitment to each other which will inevitably be in public as well as in private and we wish them thousands of days filled with love and laughter.’
What a beautiful wish that is, thousands of days filled with love and laughter.
As Christians, we are called to love, support, challenge and comfort, not just our partner, but all who God places in our lives. We are called to show that God loves each and every one of us with a depth of love that is beyond our understanding. And we are called to enable others to know that God wishes for each of us thousands of days filled with love and laughter.
wonder and of joy: grace comes from you, and you alone are the source of life
Without you, we cannot please you; without your love, our deeds are worth nothing.
Send your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
that we may worship you now with thankful hearts
and serve you always with willing minds; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. Every blessing, Bev
Well it feels as if Spring is at last here. On Saturday I spent the day on the ‘Spring Hope’ Churches Together stall at the Aldridge Village Partnership Market. The weather was lovely and lots of people thronged through the village for most of the day. Many took advantage of the weather and were out without coats, and some were even in shorts. Long may it last!
I thought ‘Spring Hope’ was a wonderful name for the stall. Nicky from the Thomas Project organised the stall and came up with the name. There were craft activities for children, resources explaining what the Christian faith is all about, and an opportunity to be prayed with. It was great chatting with so many different people, some who I knew and some who I had never met before.
‘Spring Hope’ is what Easter is all about. We have spent six weeks journeying through Lent towards the mind-blowing events of Holy Week: the trial, the cross, the death of Jesus and his glorious resurrection. These events remind us that life overcomes death, that love is stronger than hate, that hope transcends despair, that there is forgiveness and grace and a new Kingdom. And that is something that we need to hear, especially when there are so many problems in our world today. With the news coming from Syria of chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians, and turmoil in other areas of the Middle East, the world can seem a very dark place, in need of hope.
One of the things that has really struck me this year as I have read through the stories of Jesus’s resurrection appearances, is the way Jesus reassured his friends in the simplest of ways. There are several accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples and saying ‘peace be with you’, words echoing something he had said to them during the Last Supper, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ A sign that this is the same Jesus, the same yet different.
What greater gift could there have been for the disciples in the midst of their turmoil, fear and uncertainty. And what greater gift can there be for us, than to experience the peace of Christ in the midst of our own fears. The peace of Christ is a gift that is available to each and everyone of us if only we would open ourselves up to God and ask for his peace to fill us. I find that when I am praying with people and for people, the thing I pray for more than anything else, is for them to experience the peace of God.
The other thing that has struck me, is how the Gospel writers recount that Jesus breathed on his disciples. I am reading a book of meditations called ‘Breathing Deep: Life in the Spirit of Easter’ by Ian Adams. In the introduction he reminds us that breath is life and says ‘the first breath taken by the new-born child is a moment of wonder; our last breath, a gateway into something unknown.’ By breathing on his disciples, it was as if Jesus was breathing new life into them, to renew them and reconnect them with God. And he was equipping them for their mission of peace. Their task was to spread the good news that no person is beyond redemption, that there is no situation beyond hope, no community that is God-forsaken, and that love, forgiveness and grace are God’s gifts to all his children.
The disciples breathed in the life-giving energy of the risen Christ. And we too can breathe in the life-giving energy of Christ and be transformed and inspired to walk in Christ’s footsteps and do all we can to bring in his Kingdom. It simply depends on our willingness to inhale God’s love that can come to us in so many ways – a stunning sunset, the song of a bird, the scent of a flower, the laughter of a child, the hug of a friend.
One of the meditations in ‘Breathing Deep’ (published by Canterbury Press) is called ‘See resurrection in everything’:
“Resurrection is not only a future hope,
it happens now.
Vibrant and inextinguishable.
And small signs of resurrection are everywhere.
In the street where you live.
In imaginative design.
In the patient turning of the seasons.
In courageous movements for justice.
And in the daily acts of devotion that so many will offer
to God and neighbour today.
The invitation is to see resurrection.
To allow the resurrection to seep into your life.
To embody resurrection.
So that you live resurrection life now.”
Yesterday, the Sunday Worship service included this prayer:
when we run here and there in our busy lives,
searching for satisfaction, yearning for meaning –
help us to be still and know that you are the source of our strength
and our joy
as close as a prayer, as close as our breath.
You call upon us, your children,
to show and share your extravagant love
in our thoughts and words and actions.’
We need to find space and time to breathe in the living, loving energy of God, so that we can breathe out his love. Thy Kingdom Come gives us an opportunity to do just that. It is a chance to pray with Christians from around the world during the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost (May 11th to May 19th) We will be giving everyone a booklet called ‘Nine Days of Prayer: Waiting in Wonder’, produced by the Methodist Church, which includes prayers, art and scripture. Aldridge Methodist Church will also be open on Saturday May 11th for you to come and pray using different prayer stations. Please spare some time to come and pray for the world, family and friends and yourself, and to pray for an outpouring of the holy spirit on our church and community. Come and be still and breathe in the breath of God.
I am finishing this letter with the blessing that was used yesterday at the end of the Sunday worship on BBC Radio 4:
‘As we face the challenges of our lives and of our world
enfold, embrace and connect us with your love.
Fill us with the breath of your living energy,
give us the wisdom to search for your truth,
the strength to work for justice and for peace,
and the joy of being close to you and to each other.
I receive a daily email from Scripture Union called ‘Wordlive’. This morning, the Bible reading was Psalm 139. The Psalm reminds us that God is all-knowing, all-seeing and ever present. Whilst that is comforting, it’s also a challenge, because it means that God knows our every thought. The Psalm, whilst containing some beautifully comforting words, also contains some difficult words. David, the writer of the Psalm asks the question so many of us ask: why does God not deal with the wicked. In verses 19 he says: ‘If only you O God would slay the wicked!’ I know God’s view on loving our enemies, but if I am honest, I sometimes echo those words of David when I see evil and injustice in our world and when I see evil and injustice in our own community.
I am having a few days off next week. Whilst I am looking forward to some time away, I am a feeling a bit nervous, as we will be visiting Auschwitz, and I am really not sure what impact it will have on me. The 27th January 2018 was Holocaust Memorial Day and the Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 on 28 January had Holocaust Memorial Day as its theme. The service reflected on the challenge of what to say in the face of unspeakable horrors such as those of the death camps in World War II, and in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. These are all reminders of the uncomfortable truth that evil exists. We have seen it through history, and we see it in our own times too. It’s very hard to know what to do in the face of evil. The preacher in the service said “Any naïve pretence about human goodness won’t do in the face of events like the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia or the systematic rape and murder of Darfur. But in the face of vital realism, despair won’t do either. Despair breeds nothing but cynicism and apathy. Throwing up our hands is easy to do, and is maybe understandable, but it does nothing to come to terms with, let alone alleviate, the consequences of evil. In the face of evil, cynicism won’t do, and despair won’t do.’ The preacher suggests that while naivety, despair, cynicism and apathy won’t do, grief just might. One way of expressing grief is to lament. We seem to have lost the art of lament. Those words from Psalm 139 ‘If only you O God would slay the wicked’ are a lament, a pouring out of our innermost thoughts to God.
The Bible is full of lament, from the Psalmists to Job to Jesus.
Louisa, as part of the candidating process, was asked to give a creative presentation entitled ‘Laughter and Lament’. Some of you may have seen the strips of material on which Louisa has put photographs, images of laughter and lament, and some Bible verses. We know and understand what laughter does – there is nothing better than the chance to laugh. It takes us out of ourselves and lifts our spirits. But what about lament?
According to the dictionary, lament is ‘a passionate expression of grief or sorrow’. We seem to be afraid of lament. But we need, in the face of evil, in the face of suffering, to grieve, to lament.
The Israelites lamented when they were in exile – ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.’
Job had lost everything – his family, friends, home and health. Yet he wrestled through with God and clung to God as he sought to find meaning in his struggles. He held on to his faith in God and turned to God with all his heart, wanting to see and experience God in the midst of his pain.
Habakkuk lamented ‘How long, Lord, must I call for help before you listen? “Violence is everywhere” I cry, but you do not come to save.’
Jesus in the face of what lies ahead laments ‘Now my soul is troubled’. And through that lament he places himself in the hands of God and as a consequence is not overwhelmed.
The friends of James Brindley lamented when they went to a vigil at the Parish Church on the night after James’s death. When things happen that we cannot understand, when we find ourselves in the face of unbearable darkness, we can turn to God and we can let out our innermost feelings. We can scream and shout and cry, knowing that God hears our lament and that God will not allow us to be overwhelmed by the darkness and horrors that engulf us. And we will come to see and know that no wickedness can ever extinguish God’s infinite love.
So if you are facing difficulties in your own life, or you are worried about the terrible things that are happening in the world, never be afraid of pouring out your heart to God in prayers of lament.
When I visit that place of horrors where so many were put to death, I hope my response will be to lament, to cry out to God, to rail against the injustice that happened not only there and then, but the injustice that continues to happen. And I know that the God I love, the God of love, will hear my cry and will lament with me. And I know that the God I love will offer light and hope that can never be overcome by the darkness.
I came across this prayer of lament by Anna Woofenden
‘One God, in many forms,
I cry out to You.
Divine Parent, Holy Womb.
I curl up in Your presence, gently rock to the beat of Your heart.
I am nurtured by Your tender care.
I feel Your hand supporting my neck
and Your love and healing permeating my being.
Jesus the Christ, You walk with
You know intimately the pain,
the gritty reality of human and earthly life.
I know You cry out with me,
and Your heart breaks with mine.
Knowing You’ve walked this path brings me strength,
I know I am not alone.
Sustaining Spirit, fill me.
Plug the cracks in my spirit with putty of assurance and belonging.
Heal the severs in my thinking with the truths of who I am in You.
Mend the torn pieces in my heart with Your inexhaustible presence and love.
Fill me with the hope and strength that is Your Divine Movement,
sweeping me into the Divine Dance.
It is to You O Divine One, the Alpha and the Omega,
the Beginning and the End,
the First and the Last,
the One God of heaven and earth,
that I cry…
Heal me and make me whole.
I spent yesterday, with family, trying to do some more clearing at my mother-in-law’s house. We found the most amazing things as we went through cupboards, including a set of tiny paper hat place markers, with the names of immediate family and extended family carefully written on them. When I opened the box and said ‘look at these’, Nicky started to tell me about the family Christmas parties they had, and how she and Rob had sat and made the tiny paper hats and that they were kept in that box and brought out each year to mark each person’s place at the table. When her brother Simon arrived, she immediately said, ‘look at these’, and there was much laughter as they shared memories together. It’s amazing how an inanimate object can invoke so many memories. Last night when Simon got back to Manchester he sent a text to say, that although it had been a very emotional day, he had actually enjoyed it because of the many really happy memories it had brought back.
I found some prayers that Pauline had written at the end of a day on holiday in Overy Staithe, which brought me to tears, and reminded me just how deep her faith was, and how central it was to her life. It is so hard, both emotionally and physically, clearing away someone else’s life, deciding what to keep and what can be discarded. One thing we all did at end of the day, was resolve to declutter our own homes.
We will soon be entering the season of Lent, the period of 40 days which begins on Ash Wednesday and takes us through to Easter. We are invited as Christians to use the season of Lent as a time of penitence and fasting. It is a period of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. The number of days, 40, is significant because:
The forty days of Lent are often considered to be a hardship. People often give something up during those 40 days as an act of penitence. But I think we should look at those 40 days as a gift. They are an opportunity, if we are prepared to take it, to declutter, to get rid of some of the stuff that fills our minds and our lives, that prevents us from having the relationship we should have with God. It’s an opportunity to be intentional in giving up time and space to be with God. Time and space to be with God doesn’t need to involve action or words, it can be appreciating the beauty of nature around us, it can be sitting very quietly and emptying our minds, it can be reading a book, listening to music, praying.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which this year is on 15 February. Unfortunately, I am away and will not be here to lead a service on that day. It is always a rather solemn service as we step into Lent. I know that l need that service, as it reminds me how important Lent is. The Ash Wednesday service gives us the opportunity to confess our sins and the Church of England liturgy, in Common Worship, includes this prayer:
‘We confess that we have sinned in thought and word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Lord, have mercy.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ.
We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Lord, have mercy.
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy and impatience of our lives;
our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people;
our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves;
our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts and our dishonesty in daily life and work;
our negligence in prayer and worship and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.
Lord, have mercy.
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done,
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty;
accept our repentance, Lord.
For all false judgements,
for uncharitable thoughts towards our neighbours
and for prejudice and contempt towards those who differ from us,
accept our repentance, Lord.
For our waste and pollution of your creation
and our lack of concern for those who come after us
accept our repentance Lord.
Restore us, good Lord, and let you anger depart from us.
Favourably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
that we may show your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
In your mercy, forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
that we may do justly,
and walk humbly with you, our God.
I think if we spend time during Lent praying that prayer, then it will enable us to declutter our minds, to focus on God, and become more Christ like, becoming the people God intends us to be. I invite you also to come and be part of our Lent discussion group, where we set aside just an hour and a half to explore with one another, learn from each other and draw closer to God. More information will be available in the notices.
So may this season of Lent be one that challenges you to declutter and re-focus yourself on God, and in doing so may you find yourself closer to God and richly blessed.
I’m sat here looking out of the window at a beautiful sight – snow on trees. It’s beautiful, but it’s also disruptive. Many churches didn’t hold services yesterday because of the snow, and over 70 schools in Walsall are closed today. Train services were cancelled yesterday, and the Midlands seems to have come to a standstill. I am due to go to a Board meeting the other side of Solihull in a couple of hours. This morning we have had to ring the hotel to see if they are open, ring round the directors who are travelling from north and south, and take a decision as to what we should do. We will be going ahead, as we have many important things to discuss. Snow, beautiful but disruptive.
When you read this letter, we will have been through Christmas and will be thinking about the beginning of a new year. What do we celebrate at Christmas, the birth of a baby, the Son of God. Someone beautiful, beautiful beyond our imagining. Someone who shone with the love of God. Beautiful, yet also disruptive. Disruptive, because Jesus showed us how we should live our lives, how we should respond to one another and treat one another. Disruptive, because when we open our hearts to Jesus we will be changed and transformed. Disruptive, because when we follow Jesus we are called to follow a path that is countercultural, different to the ways of this world.
It’s normal at the beginning of a new year to think about our new year resolutions. My resolutions will be both worldly and spiritual. My worldly resolutions are to get back to running, and try and get a bit fitter. This will involve making space in my diary, and being intentional about it. The other thing I am going to be intentional about is making more space to pray. One of the things I will be praying for is for people to open their hearts and minds and let the beautiful and disruptive Christ in. There are so many people in our community who are searching, searching for meaning, searching for hope, searching for love. The weekend of the Christmas Tree Festival demonstrated this clearly to me, through the conversations I had with people I had never met before, and through the conversations those who were part of the prayer tent had in the town square. We need as a church, and as Christians, to shine with the light and love of God and be a place where people can find refuge, acceptance, a listening ear, love and hope.
When we look back on 2017, it’s been a dreadful year, with awful tragedies happening around the world, in this country and in our own community, and for some, tragedies in their own lives. Sometimes we just don’t know how to respond. But the essence of Christian hope is that we are able to look beyond the immediate tragedy and know that God is alongside us, weeping with us, sharing our pain and our anguish. I have been reminded of this during the autumn as a group of us have looked at the book of Revelation. John, the disciple of Jesus, was given a vision. He saw a new heaven and a new earth. All creation had been transformed. In John’s vision, he hears Christ saying ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”’
‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them’. What a beautiful vision. A vision that becomes reality for each of us when we open our hearts and minds and let the beautiful and disruptive Christ in.
May 2018 be a year in which you draw ever closer to God and allow the beautiful and disruptive Christ to continue you to transform you, and a year in which you share the hope that is in Christ with those around you.
Every blessing, Bev x
Well the clocks have turned back, and the nights have drawn in, and it is definitely much colder. I love the crisp autumn days. The colours of the leaves are just so very beautiful at this time of year.
This morning it was the Remembrance Parade. As we set out to walk from the Community Centre to the War Memorial there was a short rain shower, which resulted in a beautiful rainbow across the sky. A rainbow appears in both the first and the last books of the Bible. In Genesis, the rainbow appears after the flood. In Revelation, a rainbow that looked like emerald, encircled the throne of God. The rainbow is so symbolic, it is a reminder of God’s love for us. It seemed so appropriate this morning, that this symbol of peace, love and freedom appeared as we set off to mark the sacrifice of so many people to secure our freedom, and to pray for peace and justice among all peoples.
Last Thursday I was in London for a meeting at Methodist Church House. I took the chance to meet up with two old school friends. I see Kate as regularly as I can, but I haven’t seen Shona for 23 years. Kate cooked a lovely meal and we sat and chatted and caught up on each other’s lives. Kate’s husband David very kindly gave me a lift back to Euston Station. Last time I visited Kate, in the summer, when David drove me back to Euston we passed by Grenfell Tower. It was the first time either of us had seen it in person. David and I talked with Kate and Shona about the impact seeing the burnt-out tower had on us. (I wrote about it in a previous letter in the newsletter). Shona remarked that we wouldn’t see it this time as it was dark. How wrong she was, but not in the way I expected. As we drove past it was pitch black, and I didn’t expect to see anything. The surrounding tower blocks had lights on, and were easily visible. What surprised me, was how the black figure of Grenfell Tower, shrouded in darkness, stood out. It shocked me with its bleakness. And it has been on my mind since Thursday evening. So many people lost their lives in the fire at Grenfell Tower. So many people’s lives will never be the same because of that night. They have lost loved ones, their possessions, their homes, and for some, their hope.
When we look back on this year, there have been so many events that have plunged people’s lives into darkness. The terrorist attacks in this country and abroad. Hurricanes and floods that have caused so much devastation. Wars that continue to be raged. Random acts of violence in the communities around us. I could go on.
Another symbol associated with Christianity, is light. We believe that Jesus is the light of the world. Our world really needs that light, and the hope that Jesus brings. Whilst we find it hard to come to terms with so much tragedy in the world around us, we need to remember that God weeps with us, and that God journeys beside us, offering us light and hope.
We are approaching the season of Christmas. The launch of the major Christmas TV adverts is happening. The focus is on spend, spend, spend, and achieving happiness through material possessions. I was heartened today when I heard someone say, that last Christmas they did so many things to try and capture the spirit of Christmas – they went to Winter Wonderland in Telford, and Winter Wonderland at the Snowdome, and lots of other commercial offerings. This person is not a regular church-goer, but they said when they went into a church on Christmas Eve to a crib service, they found what they had been searching for, but that had alluded them in all these other places, the true spirit and meaning of Christmas, and a deep sense of peace.
At Christmas, we celebrate light coming into the world, light that shines in the darkness, light that will never be overcome. This is the good news of Christ, God incarnate coming into the world and living among us. Our faith, even though it can be severely tested, helps us to get through those dark times, and to come out onto the other side, into the light. So many people desperately need to find a way forward through the darkness of their lives, so that they too can experience the light.
I recently came across a song I hadn’t heard before, called ‘Jesus, light of the world’. It contains these words:
“The most beautiful night of the year.
All the stars light up the sky
and the city is sparkling with silver and gold
from a million points of light – a reflection of something that’s deeper within.
Just a flicker of something more.
Jesus, light of the world, shine through the darkness, bright as the day.
Jesus, light of the world, shine in our hearts, show us the way tonight.
Who is this child in a manger?
Kings bow down and angels sing,
the Lord of the Universe has come here to save us, a precious offering.
All the heavens above and the earth below are filled with the light of your love.
Jesus, light of the world, shine through the darkness, bright as the day.
Jesus, light of the world, shine in our hearts, show us the way tonight.
Jesus, shine, show us the way, light of the world.”
Jesus does show us the way. And it is part of our Christian calling to let the light and love of Christ shine through us to show others the way. So why not use the opportunities you have this Christmas to tell people of the light that Christ is, of the hope he can bring even in the darkest of times in our lives. Instead of sending Christmas cards adorned with Christmas scenes, robins or Father Christmas, why not this year send Christmas cards with Christian messages. Or why not give to charity instead of sending so many cards, and instead let people know that you have given to X so that through your donation light may be brought into peoples’ lives, just as Christ brings light into your life.
We need to find ways to talk about God and what God has done in Christ. We need to tell the stories of God and the impact God has had on our lives. We need to show people that we have a living faith. What better time to do that than at Christmas.
“God of love, we give thanks to you for the coming of Jesus Christ, into our world and into our lives.
We pray that the light of the world may shine so brightly in our lives, that other people notice it, and are attracted to you by the way we live and love.
Jesus, you are the glory of eternity shining among us,
the tenderness of God here with us now.
Jesus, proclaimed by the angels, come & light up the darkness of this world.
Jesus, worshipped by the shepherds, come & light up the darkness of this world.
Jesus, adored by wisemen, come & light up the darkness of this world.
Jesus, God with us, come & light up the darkness of this world.
Jesus, come and live in our hearts, that we too may light up the darkness of this world.
‘clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’
That is the instruction that Paul gave to the church in Rome. It’s an instruction that provides both comfort and challenge.
If we are going through a difficult time in our lives, it’s wonderful to know that we can be clothed in Christ, that the love of Christ will surround us and envelop us, bringing us comfort.
But what about the challenge? To clothe ourselves in Christ means to be as Christ-like as we can, not just on a Sunday when we come to worship, but in every aspect of our lives. It’s something that we need to continually work at. Sometimes we will do well, at other times we will struggle, but we should never give up trying to clothe ourselves in Christ.
I attended the autumn Synod of the Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury District on Saturday. The District’s theme for this Connexional year, ‘Vocation’, was launched. During the opening worship, an amusing drama powerfully reminded us how God calls the most unlikely people.
Deborah Wills, the Media officer with the Shropshire and Marches Circuit, had produced some short videos that captured the inspirational sense of vocation of some wonderful lay people. These were interspersed with live interviews.
We heard about the Story Garden that has been created by Vicky, a Lay-worker in the Brownhills & Willenhall Circuit. The garden in, Leamore Park, is a place where people can come and reflect in a peaceful environment, and it is a space that is used to work with local schools and tell the stories of the Bible, linking in with the RE curriculum. Vicky had worked hard to bring a God-given vision to life.
We heard about Tiras, a young man in Dudley. He witnessed a racially motivated attack on a young man, and was inspired to set up a multi-faith youth group to build bridges between young people of different ethnicities and religions. The group has been supported by the Dudley Circuit and by a District grant. Through this work Tiras felt a call to preach and is now studying to become a Local Preacher.
We heard about Carol and Vicky and the volunteering they do for the Foodbank at Ablewell Advice. Their enthusiasm for the work they do was so very obvious. For Carol, volunteering is part of her Christian calling, and through their conversations, Vicky is learning more about God.
We heard about Joy and how God called her, as a quiet and shy young lady, to become a Local Preacher. She spoke about how she lives out her Christian faith in her working life as a teacher, as well as through her preaching.
We heard about David. As a young farmer in Shropshire, he understood the pressures that farmers are facing and how hard it can be on a daily basis. He was also very aware of how isolated farmers can be in rural Shropshire. He volunteered as a rural chaplain. The size of the Chaplaincy team has grown, reflecting the need that there is for this valuable service that provides a life-line to many farmers. Supported by a grant from the District, David is now a paid member of staff of the Borderlands Chaplaincy and combines this work with looking after the family farm.
Hearing people’s stories and how God continues to call people to new and different things is incredibly humbling and inspiring.
‘Clothe yourself in Christ’ – the stories we heard at Synod on Saturday were of people who clothe themselves in Christ. And we were incredibly privileged at Aldridge Methodist Church to hear people’s stories at our membership service on 3 September when Gerry, Jacob, Kiren, Margaret and Sybil were confirmed, and with Mike, Nesta and Tina, were made members. This month we are including in the newsletter Mike and Tina’s testimony from that service. Next month we will include Nesta and the John Family. When people make a public commitment to Christ it really is something to celebrate. And as a minister it is one of the most immense privileges of ministry.
So I hope you will be inspired, as I have been inspired, and that you too will continue to work to ‘clothe yourself in Christ’ in each and every part of your life.
Testimony of Michael Jobbins
I was brought up in the Christian faith within the life of Kingswood Congregational Church, near Bristol. I met Pearl there, we became committed members there, were married there and our two sons were christened there.
Eventually, my career necessitated a family move to Sutton Coldfield, a happy one mainly, but somehow we just could not resettle into church life then. Family and business came first and humanitarian service work in Lions Clubs International made big demands on our spare time, so we gave up on seeking church life whilst trying to keep the faith, but only as “go it alone Christians.” Of course, that didn’t work, but God never gives up and my standing here testifies to this, but I struggled to find the right words for this special day. I kept thinking that Pearl should have been standing here too and the more I wrote, the more complicated things became, but God, (as he often has to) gave me a nudge and I remembered the Kiss Principle - Keep It Simple Stupid. So I turned to “Daily Prayer” by Nick Fawcett: a book I came by when most needed some eight months ago. I have used it every day since and I now read two prayers from it that speak for me so much better than I can: -
“Beginnings & Endings”- Lord Jesus Christ, you brought me new beginnings out of what seemed to be the end and new purpose in what had seemed to deny all meaning. Teach me, however hopeless circumstances might seem, never to lose my sense of all you are able to do. Remind me that endings can lead to new beginnings and new life can spring from the old. In that confidence, I look forward to everything you will yet do in my life.
“Shoulder to Shoulder”- Loving God; you have called me into the fellowship of the Church to work shoulder to shoulder alongside your people for the growth of your kingdom. You have called me into a family through which I have found support, encouragement, strength and inspiration. Forgive me for those times of trying to go it alone rather than standing with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Open my eyes to everything I can give and receive, and so may my faith be enriched and my service renewed, so that I discharge my responsibilities faithfully in an ever growing relationship with you and your people, to the glory of your name.
So dear friends: here I stand with Pearl still with me in Spirit. We were “go it alone Christians” for a long time before we entered here some four years ago. There wasn’t the expected clap of thunder, but I think I heard God whisper, “it’s about time!” From that moment, your response shoulder to shoulder, supported, encouraged, strengthened and inspired to the point where today, I gladly give you my thanks, give my testimony and give my commitment to a renewed deeper faith and relationship with God, through Christ Jesus and his Holy Spirit. Amen
(If you would like a copy of Nick Fawcett ‘Daily Prayer’ price £10, please speak to Bev)
Testimony of Tina Rogers
35 years ago, almost to the day, we moved into Aldridge.
We were an Interchurch Family and wondered if God still required that two church discipline of us. He did.
Beth and Matthew started at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic school – and our lollipop lady crossing Walsall Road was Pat Marklew. We got talking and within days she’s ask Mike Vass to pop round the corner and invite us to AMC.
This was definitely what God wanted for us. Thank God for Mike and for Pat and Terry, and countless others of you, who have faithfully prayed for us over those 35 years.
And thank God for this community of faith here. It is here our children were rooted in Jesus, particularly through Pete Kelsall, when he was Youth Worker here. [Never doubt the value of youth work – and always pray for it. God knows what it will reap further down the line.]
It is here that I have learnt and been the recipient of the power of prayer. We have been prayed through the ups and downs of life . . Amy’s birth, Beth’s operations, Matt and Mel’s wedding and the births and christenings of John, Edward and Poppy, our other grandson Joshua’s difficult birth, my cancer. [Never doubt the value, the importance, the duty and the joy of prayer.]
It is here that I am on my spiritual journey. In addition to prayer, I have learnt to love and value the Word of God in Scripture more and more. And I have been enabled to follow Jesus in a range of ways of service, including – encouraged by Bev and Tricia – sharing in leading worship. [Never doubt the value of flexibility, based on prayer and Scripture, that along with its care for the community, is such an important part of Methodism.]
And it is here I have worshipped, prayed, shared communion and worked alongside Mike. Always there, always working, always supporting, always praying. Thank God for Mike.
So why now, after following my God all my life and after long years of being part of this worshipping community and fellowship?
Because, a bit like in the marriage service, I want to declare before God and this church here and those in heaven, that this IS my fellowship, in this time and in this place. It is here I strive for holiness (a long journey yet) and am taught and prayed for and nurtured.
Tricia sent me a card and a book as a gift for today. The book is called “Roots and Wings”.
Roots are important to who we are and how we develop
But it is here that I have grown and thrived for over half my life and I am developing my wings.
Thank God. Thank you. Right now, this is where I belong.
(If you are interested in exploring membership, then please have a chat with Bev).