Minister`s Blog


 "The Church of the Warm Heart and the Open Mind"


 



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MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 1ST 2022


This is my first opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year. In doing so, I acknowledge that maybe many of us see little room even for guarded optimism, never mind happiness!


My own personal experience in recent days bears out that sense of gloom.My visit to Northern Ireland was cut short and I was unable to be with the family on Christmas Day, as I was self-isolating pending the results of a PCR test for Covid. 

     

I returned to England 5 days earlier than planned only to test positive and go into an even longer period of self-isolation!

Thankfully, so far, the symptoms are much milder than those experienced when I had my first bout last year.


I know that many of you are now affected by this, both within your own family and the circle of your friends and neighbours. All of us are grateful for the vaccines and the booster jab.

We continue to be appreciative of the work of scientists and medical staff as they seek to mitigate the worst of the side effects of the virus.


Ultimately, we place ourselves in the hands of God and trust and pray that all may be delivered safely through this prolonged and pernicious pandemic.


I have found some poems and hymns for New Year, which I hope will strengthen your faith and help raise your spirits

at a time when it is difficult to be hopeful.

Please do read and reflect on them over this week.


As the old year passes
we look back, reflect:
times of joy and promise,
times we’d best forget.
God of the ages
help us walk your way.
Help us greet your future,
seize tomorrow’s day.

 

As the old year passes
sorrow wells within:
loved ones no more ’round us,
all that could have been.
God of compassion,
heal each ailing heart.
Guide us to your future
where new life may start.


As the old year passes
we cry for our struggling world.
Climate ever-changing,
fighting too often heard.
Jesus, you call us
to cherish all you give.
Call us to your future
where all in peace might live.


As the new year dawns now
we would give you praise.
Faithful God, come lead us
onward in new ways.
We’ll love and serve you
in the faith of Christ,
in your Spirit’s future:
people of new life.


Anon


God of our life,                                                                      through all the circling years,
We trust in thee;
In all the past,                                                                      through all our hopes and fears,
thy hand we see.
With each new day,                                                                when morning lifts the veil,
we own thy mercies, Lord, which never fail.


God of the past,                                                                    our times are in thy hand;
with us abide.
Lead us by faith                                                                    to hope’s true promised land;
be thou our Guide.
With thee to bless,                                                                the darkness shines as light,
and faith’s fair vision changes into sight.


God of the coming years,                                                      through paths unknown
we follow thee;
when we are strong,                                                            Lord, leave us not alone;
our Refuge be.
Be thou for us                                                                      in life our daily Bread,
our heart’s true Home                                                            when all our years have sped.


Hugh Thomson Kerr (1872-1950)


 

MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 6TH 2022


As I write this, I am feeling very relieved that after 10 days of self-isolation following a positive Covid test, I have tested negative and will be able to be “released into the wild” so to speak!

Even after the period of self-isolation the official advice is to consider limiting your contacts with vulnerable groups and so I have withdrawn from leading worship at two churches on Sunday January 9th.


However, I will be back in business the following week and hope to be at both the Deacons meeting on the 12th and part of the Coffee Morning on the 14th (Practice Nurse appointment permitting).


Sunday January 16th will be my first service of 2022 and so I have moved our monthly celebration of Communion to that date. Our service will reflect the theme of a New Year as well as the Gospel passage for that Sunday which is very appropriate.


I hope that we can make January 16th a celebration not just of Communion, or of New Year but of our joint commitment to face the future in faith and in fellowship.

What we have learnt, or what I hope that we have learnt through this pandemic, is that to get through it as best we can, we need each other, and we need our faith. 


Self-reliance is a much-vaunted quality in many quarters and there is a lot to be said for standing on your own two feet but there are times when human strength alone will not suffice.

It is then that we realise that there is no shame in asking others for help. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out to God in a time of need.


So, as we venture forth on our journey into a new year lets remind ourselves that we do not travel alone. I leave you with one of my favourite quotes for this time of year.


“Many things about tomorrow, I don`t seem to understand.   But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.”



MINISTER`S BLOG JANUARY 18TH


As I write this, my father is very ill in the Mater Hospital Belfast. As a family, we do not know what each new day may bring but all that we can do is to entrust both him and us to the hands of God, who knows what is best.


I recently came across this prayer by the late Dr Billy Graham, whose ministry my father supported for many years. I hope it speaks to all of us in this first month of a new year, with all its challenges as well as its opportunities.


“Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year, we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.

We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.


In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.


In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.


In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.


And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need.


May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end” (Psalm 119:33).


We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world.


We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also and assure them of Your love and concern for them.


Bring our divided nation together and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).


As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.


And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith.

This I ask in the name of our Lord and Saviour,

who by His death and resurrection

has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.

Amen.”


 As I quoted at the close of my previous letter,


“Many things about tomorrow, I don`t seem to understand,       but I know who holds tomorrow

 and I know He holds my hand”

 


MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 1ST


There is a phrase, often quoted at funerals,                            “In the midst of life, we are in death”.

That has never been more appropriate in my life than in the last week or so.              


As you know, I travelled home recently to see my father, who was very ill in hospital. He died a couple of days later and two days after that I shared in conducting his funeral.

When I returned to England, I conducted the funeral of a friend who had died on Christmas Eve and then I heard of the death of one of our oldest church members.  


At times like this it is all too easy to sink below the waves of sorrow or stress and so we need to be reminded of the boundless grace of God.

Our gospel reading for this coming Sunday is from Luke 5 vs 1-11. The story used to be referred to as “The miraculous draught of fishes”.

It is a reminder that when we feel we are at the very end of our tether and that we cannot go any further, God is there.  


Some years ago, when visiting a Mormon Church, I heard one of the elders speak on the concept in aviation of “the point of no return”, when the plane doesn’t have enough fuel to return to the airport in the event of an emergency.                    

The young nissionary shared how that by the grace of God, when we feel that we have reached the point of no return and can`t see anyway back or forward, God himself is at the point of no return to carry us forward.

 

I trust that the God who meets us at our "point of no return"

may be a source of strength and grace in your life and mine

in the days of this coming week and for evermore.


MINISTERS BLOG FEBRUARY 14TH


As I prepare for next Sunday`s service, I am reminded that it is the Second Sunday before Lent. Before we know it, we will be in the Season of Lent and Easter.                                        Tesco, as we know has been in the Season of Easter from shortly after Christmas!

I will not jump the gun by beginning to explore the themes for Lent ahead of time. Rather, I point you to the readings for next Sunday and especially the gospel, Luke chapter 6 verses 27 to 38.                                                                                     


Coming on the heels of the message which I shared with the fellowship at Greenacres Congregational Church Oldham last Sunday based on 1st Corinthians 13, this is an even more challenging passage.                                                                                           JJesus` call to love our enemies and not to judge others, is a difficult one to follow. The reading from Luke 6 contains some verses we`d probably prefer to gloss over, such as,

“Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”


As I said at Greenacres, we cannot possibly achieve such depths of discipleship in our own strength. We cannot even begin to live up to such high ideals through our own willpower but when we place our wills at the disposal of God and when we allow ourselves more and more to be filled and guided by the Spirit of God, then we can make spiritual progress.


As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage all of us, myself included, to consider how we might be more Christlike in our dealings with others and more in-tune with the will of God.

A renewed commitment to daily prayer and bible reading could be a simple but effective start, so why not make that commitment today?


MINISTER`S BLOG FEBRUARY 28TH


This week has a number of significant dates;

St David`s Day and Shrove Tuesday on March 1st

and Ash Wednesday on the  2nd

I am traveling to London on Ash Wednesday in advance of a reception at Lambeth Palace on Thursday hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the country`s National Ecumenical Officers and I will be representing the Congregational Federation.

If it is possible, it would be great to be able to attend a service at St Paul`s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey on Ash Wednesday. I shall have to check service times.


Lent is a time of preparation for Easter and although it has not been traditionally observed by the Nonconformist Churches, it is a useful period to reflect on our walk with God, both as individuals and as a church.

In our own case, the Church`s AGM takes place in Lent, which should encourage us to think seriously about our life together as fellow Christians.


It is a penitential season, hence the purple Communion Table runner and Lectern fall. I will be wearing a purple stole during Lent. All of these act as visual aids that we are in a special season of the church year and that we are called to reflection and repentance.

It is an opportunity for self-reflection, to consider our discipleship and the way ahead for our church`s work and witness.

To enable such reflection, I commend to those of you online, the daily reflections offered via the website of the Congregational Federation. There are also a vast variety of other resources online and in print.


Please do make some time this Lent to engage in prayer and reflection as together we journey with Christ on the road to the cross and the path to resurrection.



MINISTERS BLOG MARCH 6TH


Last week I mentioned that I was attending a reception at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, for all those involved in representing their respective denominations in the field of ecumenism.

The event was very pleasant and was the opportunity to meet up again with fellow national Ecumenical Officers and to see some new faces from the Church of England and Roman Catholic Churches. The setting of Lambeth Palace was an experience with its history and architecture.


Another interesting experience was the Service of Imposition of Ashes and Choral Eucharist for Ash Wednesday at Westminster Abbey.                                                              A few hundred of us gathered in the area before the High Altar for an inspiring act of worship, enhanced by the sublime music of the organ and choir and sweet-smelling incense.               Again, the setting of the Abbey with its soaring arches and long history was amazing.


But perhaps the most moving experience of my trip was my visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, off Oxford Street. The building originally was the King`s Weigh House Congregational Church and I was interested to see the transformation.            The building did not disappoint but it was the recording of Ukrainian chants playing quietly in the background that spoke to me most profoundly, even though I could only understand the word “Jesu”. A variety of people from young men to elderly ladies came in to kneel in prayer or light a candle. I did likewise and paused to pray for the people of Ukraine.

All of us feel terribly helpless when we watch the distressing scenes on the television news, but I would encourage all of you to remember Ukraine especially in your prayers at this time and to do what you can to support the various relief agencies who are seeking to help.


MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 14TH


This week I am off on my ecumenical travels again.                  From Monday to Wednesday,  I will be representing the Congregational Federation at the bi-annual Forum of Churches Together in England, held at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

The theme of the gathering is “Reconciling Hope – A Broken Church for a Broken World”.  Given current events in the world and the diversity of Christian denominations and groups attending Forum, I hope that our time together proves to be interesting, challenging and hopefully inspiring.


Lent, as a season in the Church Year, is also interesting and challenging. The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is certainly both! It is far from the easiest of passages to understand but we have to grapple with it if we are to gain inspiration.                                                                                             I am still working on how to achieve that but in the meantime, I leave you with a reflection on the reading, (Luke 13 vs. 1-9), by Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, a Benedictine nun.


"The first part of the Gospel reading for today is sobering.  Luke writes about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of sacrifices.  Jesus says: “Do you think that the Galileans who suffered were greater than other Galileans?”  Jesus continues on in this vein.  The point that Jesus is trying to make with the people is that if they do not repent, they will perish.

Jesus then tells them another parable.  He says: “There once was a person who planted a fig tree in his garden.  When the man came to pick the fruit, the tree had not born any fruit.  The man immediately went to his gardener and told him: “For the past three years I have come to pick figs from these trees and for the past three years, the tree has not borne any fruit.  I want you to cut the tree down now.”  The gardener said: “Sir, I ask you to leave the tree one more year.  I will fertilize it and cultivate the ground around it.  And if it does not bear fruit this year, then you can cut it down.”

                 What a patient man this gardener is!  The gardener wants to give this tree one more chance.  He is unwilling to “cut it down.” It is seldom that anyone has a perfect garden.  Gardeners learn to let nature take its course and yet to intervene when it is appropriate.  This gardener was determined to try some other tactics before uprooting the plant. 

                This Gospel gives a wonderful image of God.  God is the gardener – a hopeful and patient gardener.  God will not toss us aside immediately if we are not bearing fruit.  Our gardener, God, will fertilize us, nurture us, and pull the weeds that are growing within and around us.  However, we have to allow God to be our gardener.  The question for us is: will we bring our weeds to God and ask him to help us uproot the weeds from our hearts?

If we ask God to do so, God will gift and grace us as we work together with God to uproot the weeds from our lives.  Hopefully, over time, the weeds will gradually disappear from our lives.  We have to trust our Divine Gardener’s timing.  We human beings typically want instant answers and instant solutions.  However, our weeds may be deeply rooted and it may take time for them to be completely uprooted.  Will we trust God, our gardener? Will we strive to be patient with the process? 

Today I invite you to ask yourself: What is the weed I want uprooted from my heart and life?  Take your desire to God and place it in God’s hands.  God is trustworthy!  God will not fail you!  In the meantime, trust and be patient."

 

MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 21ST


Last week`s conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, organised by Churches Together in England, was a very tiring but worthwhile experience.

Beginning with Morning Prayer at 8am, (before breakfast) and ending with Night Prayer at 9pm, each day was filled with keynote addresses, worship, workshops and homegroups.

Speakers included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and representatives of Tearfund, among others.                                                   

The theme “Reconciling Hope – A Broken Church for a Broken World” was an apt topic for the season of Lent and all of us were encouraged to consider how we as churches and individuals could be agents of reconciling hope in our own situations.


The Gospel reading for this Sunday is from Luke  15 and recounts the well-known story of the Prodigal Son, or as someone has said more accurately, the story of the Forgiving Father.


It is also Mothering Sunday, which reminds us of another aspect of parental care and compassion.

God, who is portrayed in scripture as both father and mother, is a God of reconciling love. He is our forgiving father and nurturing mother and if we are children of such a parent, then those family traits should be evident in our own lives.

I pray that they may be.


Please read Andrew King`s reflection on today`s Gospel.


RETURN  Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

 

The shadow of a cloud moves over the road,

over the fields,                                

passes the distant house.
You shade your eyes from uncovered sun,

your brown hand holding dirt under brittle nails.

There in the fields your father’s workers are bending.

Your empty stomach moans.
You’ve rehearsed your speech.

Shuffled the words in your mouth like dusty pebbles,

the taste of shame, bitter, sharp as stone.

How frail those words seem now as you pause on your oh-so-weary feet, the smell of the sows still on your clothes,

stuck like the memory of other words:

the ones you used that day you demanded your inheritance,

as if your father, to you, were already dead.


Now you wonder what there will be in those eyes,

what words will come from his mouth.

Your brother you know: strict, unbending, rigid as the tools that work the crops; his words will be iron blades.
And you feel you deserve nothing else from the ones you insulted and deserted.

But your hunger today overpowers your fear,

and you start your feet on the long dirt lane

that leads to the house of your father.

There is a stir in the field.

A figure shouts, a man is running toward you.

And suddenly time seems to speed all motion as the earth tilts down toward that figure, the familiar face, the arms so strong, the arms that now reach to enfold you;

and the voice you’d forgotten calls for a robe and a ring and a feast prepared;
and the world itself is blurring,                       

it’s blazing, as light through your tears begins dancing;

and there is your brother, last to come in, and rather reluctantly smiling; but the music plays,

and you think what you hear is all heaven

and your father singing,

and the words to the song are all the same word,

for it’s love that you need:
love that you left,
love you have found in returning.


Andrew King


MINISTER`S BLOG MARCH 28TH


Lent is marching on and before we know it, it will be Palm Sunday and then Easter Day.

But we must resist the temptation, as many Christians do, to fast forward “to the good bits” and leave out the difficult and challenging bits.

Lent has much to teach us, and the lectionary passages are worth reflecting on in this season of the Church Year.


This Sunday`s gospel from John 12 if often referred to as “The anointing at Bethany”. It is not that easy for us as 21st century Westerners to relate to culturally. None of us are in the habit or anointing other people and we do not share the rituals of some other World Faiths surrounding the care of a deceased loved one, where the body is ceremonially washed and prepared for burial.           

It is important that we read the story with these traditions and practices in mind, other wise it will make little sense.

What Mary is doing is prophetic and deeply personal as well. She is not merely following custom but is anticipating Jesus` death and is also demonstrating her deep love and devotion. We often hear people say around the time of a funeral, he or she wasn’t to be seen while so and so was alive but they`ve come out of the woodwork now!

Perhaps one simple lesson we can take from this week`s gospel (not intended by the author I am sure) is that it is important to show our love and respect and indeed devotion to others while they are still alive and not save our money for an extravagant bouquet when they are dead.

Consider your attitude and actions towards others, especially those whom you regard as “loved ones”  and don`t leave it until it is too late to not only tell them but show them that you love them.


MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 4TH


This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday when the Church remembers Jesus` triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the week leading up to his trial and crucifixion. As is our custom, palm crosses will be distributed during the service and we encourage people to display these in you window at home or in your car window, as a silent witness to the events of Holy Week.

Palms can be traced back to Jewish tradition and Christian history. Palms are mentioned several times in the Bible and pertain to significant historical moments. For example, the earliest mention of palms is found in Judges 4:5, “She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.”

 

Other references of palms come in Psalm 92:12 when it is written the godly become referenced to the beauty of a palm tree. “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.”

 

The background of the palm trees ties the Old Testament and the New Testament together because people had already begun to associate palms with victory. Not only did God’s people use them during their festivals, but they had also begun to associate the palms as tokens of joy, triumph, goodness, victory, and steadfastness. So, it was no surprise that when they learned their King of kings was entering town, the people wanted to honour Him.

 

Thousands of years later, palms are handed out at church services to remind us of Jesus’ procession to His death that He willingly suffered for us. May it be a simple but meaningful reminder you can keep throughout the year of how much Christ loves you.


CRY BLESSÉD  

 

Now comes the giver of peace to the troubled,
now comes the bringer of hope to the weak;
now comes the healer with strength for the hurting;
rides on a donkey the king that we seek.

Now comes the hen to the den of the foxes,
now come the gentle wings open and wide
to comfort the fearful, gather the lost ones;
wings pierced with nails, a wound in the side.

Now comes the Word who is good news among us,
now comes the Shepherd who lays down his life;
behold him, the Lamb of God’s saving mercy;
the Light against whom the darkness will rise.

Blesséd the One who brings God’s love and justice;
blesséd the One who calls us to the same;
blesséd the One who can break death’s dominion;
blesséd the One who has come in God’s name.

Lift high the branches, the palm leaves of praising;
cover with garments of praise the hard ground;
soon comes betrayal, too soon the injustice;
too soon the grief and forgotten the song.

Cry “blesséd!” the One who goes through the trial,
cry “blesséd!” the One who suffers the pain;
cry “blesséd!” the One who bleeds God’s forgiveness.
Cry “blesséd!” the One who’s with us in God’s name.


Andrew King



MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 11TH


We have just had our Palm Sunday worship and Holy Week has begun. We will be holding our usual Short Service of Reflection on Good Friday at 10am and then joining fellow Christians from other local churches for an Open-Air Service at Little Hulton Neighbourhood Centre at 11.30am.                                                                                                                          On Easter Sunday morning at 5.45am there will be a Churches Together Dawn Service in Blackleach Country Park led by Rev David Cooper.                                                                        We will be celebrating Communion in our own church at 11am.


Easter Day will not only be the climax of our Lent and Easter services, but it is also I suggest, the climax of the Church Year and the very foundation of our faith. St Paul was very clear on the matter; “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised form the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.”1st Corinthians 15 vs. 16-20.                         


If I didn`t believe that, I could not conduct a funeral service, for I would have no message of hope or comfort to proclaim. If I didn`t believe that I could not have taken part in my own father`s burial.                                                                     


St Paul continues;

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”


Paul ends this section of his letter with these words, which I commend to you this Easter,


“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.”

1st Corinthians 15 vs. 55-58.


In the words of an ancient Christian liturgy,                        “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 


ODES FOR EASTER PEOPLE
John 20: 1-18

~ 1 ~

From what I’ve known of emptiness
it’s usually an empty place,
but the empty tomb of Jesus
holds the world of time and space.

From what I’ve known of losses
there’s often nothing left to be heard,
but death could not hold Jesus
and does not have the final word.

From what I’ve known of tombstones
their stillness is statement and claim,
but the stone rolled back for Jesus,
and all our destiny is changed . . .


~ 2 ~

We spin our tombs                                                                out of toughened threads
of rage, grief, bitterness, regret,
sealed inside with our guilt, our dreads

where no light of good can come.                                         And yet we are not abandoned,                                     

and there in the hard cocoon, if we let it, 

we may begin to change.

Care breaks in, God’s loving breath, warm;
slowly the old life, stripped bare, begins to break apart, transform, emerge as something different, new –
the old hurts and wounds,

the torn places, the scarred parts too starting to heal;              our being beginning to change.

In time we can choose to leave our cocoon,

and with trust, it splits open.                                           

And with strange bright wings unfolding to the fragrant air
we surface – by death and resurrection rearranged.


~ 3 ~

I know you’re there, my Easter flower,
hidden for a while in earth’s deep darkness,
soon to break forth like song out of silence,
soon to show again your resurrection power,

rising up where no plant should be growing, out of rough dirt, smooth lawn, cracks between stones, rising again from being cut, pulled up, mowed down,
supposedly dead. I know the scented white shout

of the trumpets of lilies is the common choice in sanctuaries showing Easter joy and glory,
but for me it is your undefeatable story,
the stubborn ruggedness of your sunlit voice,

that best symbolizes the resilience of faith
and the undying steadfastness of God’s love.
Try as the world might to root out and shove you back to the dark, your bright yellow face still blooms where it will. 

Irrepressible weed,
may your ever-renewing blossoms become
a sign of the kingdom of which every one
of us can be joyous, undefeated, irrepressible seed.

 

Andrew King


MINISTER`S BLOG APRIL 25TH


Last Sunday was Low Sunday, the Sunday following Easter Day.

According to the Oxford Reference online dictionary, “The first Sunday after Easter, is probably so called in contrast to the ‘high’ feast of Easter Sunday itself.”                                  Some websites helpfully point out that Low Sunday has nothing to do with low church attendances after Easter but actually that is maybe not too far off the mark!


Easter, as a “high feast day” might have passed for another year but we are still in the liturgical season of Easter, which lasts until Pentecost, which this year will be celebrated on June 5th.


As Christians, spiritually we are always in the Season of Easter. Many years ago, I heard of a Methodist Conference with the title “Easter People” and in a very real sense, Easter People is a very good name for Christians. We live our lives in the light of Easter and the message that it proclaims of the victory of life over death, faith over doubt and love over hate.

Animal welfare groups used to remind us that “ A pet is for life, not just for Christmas” and churches were quick to adopt and adapt the phrase, coming up with, “Christ is for life not just for Christmas”.

I would like to suggest that Easter is not just a one-off event, like Christmas, with its association with time off-work, school holidays and chocolate!                                

Easter contains and proclaims a truth, which, if we will let it, informs every aspect of our lives and give us hope, not just for now, but for eternity.

May we live and act and love as Easter People, for whom the risen Christ is a living reality!

 

"I believe that when I pass through the doorway of death
To stand before you in the throne room of your mercy,
You will ask of me only what you have asked of Peter.

 

But the question now will bear my name:
Do you love me, my beloved?
The deeds of my life will speak on my behalf.

 

They will whisper in disgrace
Or shout truth to the heavens
In a language that cannot lie.

 

I will crouch cowering alone in my selfishness
Or stand straightened, bravened by your sheep,
Lambs I have learned to feed and tend in love.

 

God Who Is Love, teach me to love,
Not a here-today, gone-tomorrow love,
But a love that will last the distance.

Not a gooey, sentimental, wear-it-on-your-heart-sleeve love,
But a love that will lead me to my cross and allow me
To stretch out my arms and there be stripped naked yet unafraid."

 

Prayer

"Lord, help me to be willing to be led

to where I do not want to go,
For unless I follow you

I can never truly be your discipled-friend.
Teach me, Jesus, to love – as you love me."
Amen.

 

Fr J. Michael Sparough, SJ



MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 2ND


Personally speaking, or maybe more accurately, professionally speaking, the month of May is going to be a particularly busy one, as far as events, meetings and conferences is concerned.


On May 6th I will be attending a meeting of the governors of Northern College (United Reformed & Congregational)              On May 8th, Nathan and I have been invited to Greenacres Congregational Church Oldham for their 350th Anniversary Lunch.                                                                                  From May12th to 15th I will be in Birmingham for the annual Assembly of the Congregational Federation.                          From May 19th – 20th I will be attending the Enabling Group of Churches Together in England at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire.                                                              

On May 23rd I will be attending a meeting of National Ecumenical Officers at the Salvation Army HQ in London.          And last, but by no means least, on May 28th, I will be chairing the May Assembly of the North West Area at Eccles Congregational Church.                                                        Also in May I will be conducting worship in another Congregational Church as well as a United Reformed Church and a joint Methodist and United Reformed Church.


In sharing this information, hopefully it may remind us that there is more to Church than the local church.

We are a part of our local Churches Together in Walkden & District.

We are a part of the NW Area of the CF. WE are a part of the wider Congregational family in the Congregational Federation in England, Scotland and Wales.

We are a part of Churches Together in England.  


There can be a danger in local churches of all denominations but particularly in Congregationalism, that we tend not to look beyond our own four walls.

We often fail to recognise and make the most of the links, the family ties we have not only with fellow Congregationalists but fellow Christians of all traditions.

I am fortunate through my ecumenical involvement on both the local and national level, that I am reminded regularly of such links and ties and that it is not a matter, as the old Sunday School hymn used to say,  of “You in your small corner and me in mine.” 


When I was training for the Ministry at Luther King House Manchester, I discovered a hymn which became a firm favourite of mine and I have often used it at ecumenical services. I leave it with you for reflection.

 

What shall our greeting be:

Sign of our unity?

Jesus is Lord!

May we no more defend

Barriers he died to end:

Give me your hand, my friend:

One Church, One Lord!

 

What is our mission here?

He makes his purpose clear:

One world, one Lord!

Spirit of truth descend,

All our confusions end:

Give me your hand, my friend:

Jesus is Lord!

 

He comes to save us now:

To serve him is to know

Life's true reward.

May he our lives amend,

All our betrayals end:

Give me your hand, my friend:

Jesus is Lord!

F. Pratt Green


MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 9TH


Next Sunday I will be in Birmingham for the Congregational Federation Annual Assembly. There are two CF churches in the city but I may be tempted to attend Choral Eucharist at Birmingham Cathedral on the Sunday, as I know I will be guaranteed excellent music and dignified worship.

I like to make the most of any opportunity to worship elsewhere when I am not preaching, so I am looking forward to the experience.                                                             


As a committed ecumenist, I am happy to worship in churches and chapels of all denominations and can feel at home in most places of worship which claim to be Christian.


The readings for this coming Sunday, on one level, are about togetherness and the gospel passage is about mutual love between followers of Jesus.     


“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13 vs. 35-35


I find it striking that these are Jesus`parting words to his disciples. He could have said, “Go out and die with me.”

Or “keep the faith.” Or “when I am gone go out and teach and preach to all the world.” Or any number of things.

But instead he offered this simple and challenging word, “love another.” This kind of love is the hallmark not just of God and Jesus but also of the Christian church.                                   


Many years ago, when I was involved in the Charismatic Renewal movement, we used to sing the hymn “We are one in the Spirit” which is based on this passage.  

In effect, Jesus is saying that the whole world will know we are Christians not by our sermons or our sacraments or our festivals or our buildings or our crucifixes or our family values … but by our love.


It really is that important.


MINISTER`S BLOG MAY 16TH


It was good last weekend to join with others from across the UK at the 50th Anniversary Assembly of the Congregational Federation, held at Carrs Lane Church and Conference Centre, Birmingham.


As Chairman of the InterChurch Board it was my privilege to welcome the ecumenical guests, including a former colleague from the Nonsubscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland,

a denomination under whose auspices

I trained for the Christian Ministry.


As I said in my previous letter, I intended to go to Birmingham Cathedral on the Sunday morning to enjoy the organ and choir and I was not disappointed.                               

The building itself was beautiful,

as were the amazing Burne-Jones stained glass windows.                                                                                                    I received a warm welcome from the clergy

and in particular the Rev Elaine King, Associate Priest,

who was that day`s preacher.

Basing her sermon on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter,  Acts 11:1-18 ,  Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35, Elaine encouraged us to think about life in a fresh way and challenged us to live a life of love.


I was particularly interested in a quotation she used which she attributed to a Puritan source .Thinking of the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the church as His flock, the quotation was as follows,


“For wolves to worry lambs is no wonder

but for lambs to worry one another,  

that is unnatural and monstrous.”


Of course we think of the term “worry” to mean `give cause for concern` or `create anxiety` but in farming circles it is much more serious.

Sheep worrying occurs when a dog is either chasing or worrying a sheep to the point where it is reasonably expected that the sheep will endure suffering or injury.

Sheep worrying can cause ewes to miscarry and lambs to be separated from their mothers.


When we apply this to the flock of Christ`s Church,

it is very serious indeed.


I can feel a sermon coming on

and one of these days you may have the chance to hear it!