Minister`s Blog May 1st
This coming Sunday is the Fifth Sunday of Easter and the gospel reading is John 14 vs. 1 to 14. That passage will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a funeral, as the words of Jesus, “In my Father`s house are many mansions”
are often read by the officiating minister, as indeed I did on Friday of last week at the funeral of a 105-year-old lady.
I am indebted to the Rev Janet Hunt, whose online reflections I often find helpful, for these words;
“And so it is today that Jesus speaks to us of home, the very home that is being prepared for us even now. Certainly, this home will be similar to the homes of our childhoods. It may, in fact, hold some things in common with homes we've bought and owned, fixed up, sold, and moved on from. Oh yes, all the places we have called home, if we are fortunate, may offer us some sense of the home Jesus promises his disciples now. Even so, I would guess it offers even something more, this home the promise of which even now can bring calm in the midst of our storms, peace in the midst of our worry, and hope to our despair. For even before the promise of 'home' itself,
Jesus urges his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled.
I have no idea of what that home will look like, this place which Jesus goes to prepare for us today. Today we are reminded that this home is marked and made, shaped and moulded by God's love --- by the builder himself.
And this Builder assures us that there is plenty of room in this house --- that the attic won't have to be pushed up and the upstairs re-modelled for we are expected --- and when we arrive, each one of us, we will feel at home.
It is no wonder, of course that these words are often read at funerals --- at that time when we need to hear them most of all.
What a gift it is to stand still in the promise that when our time for 'making a home' here is done, a place is waiting for us for us in God's own house. In the meantime, may all of our homes now be a foretaste of what is yet to come. May we be a part of making this so
whenever and wherever we can.
And may the promise that there is another Home waiting for us, enable us always to live in hope for what is yet to come.”
This coming weekend is also the Coronation of King Charles III. We will mark this in our prayers and following the service we will bury a time capsule in the church grounds and share coffee and celebration cake.
We hope that everyone will feel “at home” with us
on that occasion”!
Minister`s Blog May 8th
This Sunday`s gospel is John 14:15-21. It contains some words that are often quoted at funeral services, though often the quotation begins at verse 19.
The preceding verse says,
“I will not leave you orphaned….”
What does the phrase “orphaned” mean to you?
Maybe, alone, without guidance, without support,
without parents, without anyone.
Sometimes "orphaned" means being so isolated in this world that it feels like no one cares whether or not we live or die. Although an image of children first comes to mind when we use that word, any of us can be orphaned at any age. In fact, on any given day, a lot of us are orphaned, at least in spirit. Interesting that Jesus uses the word "orphaned" in this week's text, as it is such a potent metaphor for what he was about to do, which was to leave his beloved disciples and go and die. He surely knew they would be left vulnerable. He surely suspected they would turn and run for their own lives, abandoning him the very moment things got rough. He surely knew all of these things but loved them anyway. Yet his words in this passage reveal none of his own sense of loss and panic, his own sense of being orphaned. He speaks only of love of God, the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will never leave them.
Jesus made a promise then that is still alive today. In these few words from the Gospel of St. John, we have what it means to live faithfully in the midst of life, and that is to live as though we know with full assurance that we are loved, no matter what. His word to us is to trust in the abiding presence and love of God, which is unceasing, and to remember we are never alone, no matter what.
Echoes of "I am with you until the end of the world" rise here, in his words.
No wonder, then, in the midst of life, orphans all proclaim with the joy of our faith in the words of the often-derided late Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins:
He is as He is in Jesus,
therefore we are not alone.”
Thanks be to God!
Minister`s Blog May 15th
This coming Thursday is Ascension Day.
Unlike our friends in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as Nonconformists, we tend not to celebrate Feast Days.
Particularly among the early Congregationalists, there was an almost extreme reaction against anything that smelt of the Established Church.
Thankfully, in these more open and ecumenical times, we have learned to appreciate each other`s traditions and to see these as gifts to the wider Body of Christ, rather than practices to be shunned.
One such gift is Ascension day.
I`m not going to attempt to explain the Ascension in a matter of a few sentences but what I would ask us to do is to consider one aspect of the doctrine.
To put it very simply, the physical Christ is no longer with us but we, as his disciples, are the Body of Christ on earth today. That is both an awe inspiring thought and a daunting one at the same time.
We are called to be Jesus to the world today and particularly in our own community.
We are his ambassadors, his representatives.
How well have you represented Jesus in this past week?
Have people seen and recognised Christ in your actions and attitudes, your words and deeds?
The task is, as I say , both awe inspiring and daunting but Jesus didn`t leave us to do this all on our own.
He promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God would be given to all those who seek for it, so that we could know and experience Jesus working through us. That`s what the following Sunday, Pentecost, is all about. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Let the Feast of the Ascension this week challenge us all to consider how we are being Christ`s Body on earth today. The poem and story below are offered for your reflection.
Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
We are the sinner’s gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message, given in word and deed;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongue is speaking of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him or welcome His return?
Annie Johnston Flint
During the last war, a church in Strasbourg was destroyed. Nothing remained except a heap of rubble and broken glass, or so the people thought till they began clearing away the masonry.
Then they found a statue of Christ still standing erect.
In spite of all the bombing it was unharmed except that both hands were missing.
Eventually rebuilding of the church began.
One day a sculptor saw the figure of Christ, and offered to carve new hands. The church officials met to consider the sculptor’s friendly gesture and decided not to accept the offer. Why? Because the members of that church said: “Our broken statue touches the spirits of men, but He has no hands to minister to the needy or feed the hungry or enrich the poor—except our hands.
He inspires. We perform.”
Minister`s Blog May 22nd
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, or Whit Sunday, as it used to be known with the attendant tradition of Whit Walks in many English towns and cities. It was a special day in the church year when Sunday School children donned their best Sunday clothes, including white dresses for the girls, a throwback to the old name of White Sunday, from which the term Whit evolved.
It was never a part of my upbringing in Northern Ireland so I have no idea what the children, or for that matter the adults involved actually thought that Whit Sunday was all about but I suspect that the biblical story of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 was probably overshadowed by the excitement of dressing up, Sunday School banners and the hope that the weather stayed dry!
As we observed last week, the ascension of Jesus, whatever else it means, does signify the end of Jesus` physical presence in the world. It then follows that we, as His disciples, are called be the Body of Christ.
That is a huge responsibility as well as an honour but thankfully we are not called to be His body in our own strength – that is what Pentecost is all about. Jesus had promised that we He left this scene of time, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in that way, Jesus would still be present is a way that he could never be, if he was still physically restricted to a particular space and time in first century Israel.
The Holy Spirit emboldened the disciples to share the story of Jesus in such a way that the Church exploded into birth. The Spirit is still at work drawing men and women, boys and girls to faith and to service in Christ`s church.
We will be celebrating that this week with the formal welcome of three new members to our fellowship. The Spirit is still at work, if we but recognise it and as the United Churches of Christ has it “God is still speaking!”
Thanks be to God!
Minister`s Blog May 29th
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, when the Church reflects on one of its most enigmatic doctrines. The Congregational Federation, in common with a number of Congregational bodies and other denominations across the world is a non-creedal fellowship. Members or Ministers are not required to sign-up to a doctrinal statement of belief. Rather our Household of Faith is distinguished by 3 principles or values: Faith, Freedom and Fellowship.
Faith -The earliest Statement of Faith in the Church of the New Testament was short and simple, "Jesus is Lord".
That is where we begin; it is our foundation.
Freedom - Others may move on from this starting point to embrace other beliefs or doctrines that they believe God has made clear to them.
But each church member is encouraged to search the scriptures for themselves and to come to their own conclusions, as they feel led by the Spirit. Fellowship - Despite potential differences in belief and practice we nevertheless can come together in fellowship because the basis of our fellowship is not in a Creed but in a Covenant.
We covenant with God and with one another to walk in the ways of God known to us or yet to be made known to us.
With all of that in mind, on this Trinity Sunday, some will be more comfortable with the doctrine of the Trinity than others.
However, all of us can recognise that God
is revealed in scripture -
as a creative and loving Father,
in Jesus - as a compassionate and loving Saviour
and in the activity of God in our hearts and minds - as a living and loving Spirit.
But why stop with a Three-Fold God? God`s revelation to the world and action within it is manifold. Yes, we know that Father Son and Spirit are expressions of God, but God cannot be conclusively confined or defined.
And so, I have included in this week`s blog, a hymn by a former Congregationalist Minister, Brian Wren, entitled "Bring many names".
May the blessing of the God of Many Names
be with you all.
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation genius at play:
Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we're reconciled:
Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil's new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and Hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 5TH
Hopefully, the Sunday just past, I will have been in Budapest, worshipping at St Columba`s Church of Scotland.
It will be nice to share in familiar worship and in a known tongue, in what is an unfamiliar city. We will also be visiting other beautiful churches in the city where the language of the liturgy will obviously be Hungarian.
It will be a reminder that the Christian faith is not confined to one language or culture. For some people, their holiday this year might remind them that the Faith is not confined to one continent!
The worship of God and the way of Christ is an international experience and often is more widely experienced in cultures other than our own.
For example, church attendance in Poland, where we visited a few years ago is 42% and with around 90% identifying as Christian, it feels like a much more religious society than Britain`s.
In Hungary 80% identify as Christian, though church attendance is 15%.
I thought that these levels of attendance were not that encouraging until I realised that the figures for England were 4.7%. In Northern Ireland over 80% identify as Christian, with attendance at more than 50%.
When I first came to England in in the early 1980s, the contrast was even more dramatic, with the Northern Ireland percentage then, being higher.
I always said that I would never allow myself to get used to the levels of church attendance on the mainland.
Sometimes when I am at a particularly loose end and look through the Congregational Federation Handbook, which includes membership numbers for all CF churches in England, Scotland and Wales, I am reminded of the quip which I occasionally make, that when Jesus said “where two of three are gathered in my name…” he was referring to the minimum number, not the maximum!
Some of you who have been members for many years, will remember with fondness large congregations and huge Sunday School numbers in “the old church”.
I don`t happen to believe that decline is inevitable or irreversible.
With God`s blessing and with our openness to the Spirit, we can see growth.
Thank God, that in our own way, we are seeing an increase in both attendance and membership.
Long may it continue, to the glory of God and the upbuilding of His kingdom!
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 12TH
This coming Sunday is the Second after Trinity and the set Gospel is Matthew 9:35-10:8, entitled in the NRSV - The Harvest is Great, The Labourers Few, The Twelve Apostles and The Mission of the Twelve.
There is no doubt much food for thought in these readings and I commend them to you for your personal reflections.
However, this Sunday I am marking Father`s Day. Yes, I know it is not a Christian Festival but If mothers can have Mothering Sunday surely the fathers can have Fathers Day! It gives the church family an opportunity to thank God for fathers, to pray for fathers and to consider the Fatherhood of God, one of the foundations of our faith.
One of the readings we will share is from Luke 15, commonly known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son,
or The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother,
as the NRSV has it.
Some years ago I heard a sermon which suggested that the story should more properly be called The Parable of the Forgiving Father. I was very struck by this and have used that description ever since. It puts the emphasis not on the wayward son and his misdemeanours but on the forgiving father and his mercy. I recently listened to part of an online sermon by the Rev Alistair Begg, a Scottish minister pastoring in the USA.
He reminds his congregation that salvation doesn`t depend on us. It is not even all about our response but on God`s reaching out to us.
In one clip he imagines the dying thief of Calvary encountering the admissions procedure in heaven, having arrived there much to his own surprise and that of heaven itself! Begg`s gentle but incisive humour powerfully illustrates how the true emphasis in salvation must always be on God and not us.
Begg imagines the interviewing angel asking the thief of Calvary, “Why are you here?” And the man honestly replies, “I don`t know”. The angel needs more information and so begins his line of questioning with, “What is your view of the Doctrine of Justification by faith?” The man honestly replies, “Never heard of it!”.
The angel continues, “What about the Doctrine of Scripture?”. “No idea!” the man honestly replies.
The angel decides to send for his supervisor as clearly this man has never attended a Bible Study.
The supervising angel, in exasperation, says to the thief, “This is heaven you know. How on earth did you get here?” To which the thief honestly replies,
“The man on the middle cross said I could come”.
Begg continues to explain that when we are asked the same question, as one day we will be, if we respond in the first person, we are on the wrong foot altogether.
Not even “I believe” or “I am saved” is an adequate response. Only when we respond in the third person are we on the right track. It is not what I have done but what He has done!
May you know the love of the Forgiving Father!
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 19TH
At the 86th Annual Academy Awards, “20 Feet from Stardom” won the Oscar for best documentary feature film. The film honours the unknown musicians who sang the backing vocals for Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, U2, and many other stars.
Many of these backing singers were black women who grew up in church. Many of them had fathers who were pastors — like Darlene Love. Love, who featured prominently in 20 Feet from Stardom and accepted the Oscar on behalf of the film. She wasted no time in her acceptance speech to Hollywood's glitterati:
"Lord God, I praise you, and I am so happy to be here representing the ladies of 'Twenty Feet from Stardom.'"
She then burst into an enthusiastic rendition of one of the most famous gospel hymns ever: "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free, His eye is on the sparrow, And I know he watches me."
They gave her a standing ovation.
I wonder how many people knew that the song comes from the words of Jesus in this week's gospel. Or that it was made famous by Ethel Waters, who sang it at Billy Graham Crusades and used it as the title for her first autobiography.
Ethel Waters knew fear and pain. Her birth resulted from the rape of her teenage mother. She grew up without a father in severe poverty. In her autobiography, she writes that she never lived in the same place more than fifteen months.
"I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family." She married when she was thirteen, left that abusive man, then worked as a maid in Philadelphia for a pittance. Despite all that, Waters testified of God's providential care: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me."
That's the message of this week's gospel. "Don't be afraid," said Jesus. "Don't be afraid," he said a second time. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And then a third time: "Even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
Whatever you are facing this week, remember this truth!
MINISTER`S BLOG JUNE 26TH
This week`s Gospel is Matthew 10:40-42 and verse 42 contains an interesting sentence about giving a glass of water. I`d like to share with you what American Lutheran minister David Lose has to say about the passage:
“What a little thing, don’t you think, to give a cup of cold water? Jesus emphasizes the same by his use of the word “even.” We often imagine discipleship as requiring huge sacrifice or entailing great feats, and sometimes that is exactly what discipleship comes to.
But at other times, Jesus seems to say, it’s nothing more than giving a cup of cold water to one in need. Or offering a hug to someone who is grieving.
Or a listening ear to someone in need of a friend.
Or offering a ride to someone without a car.
Or volunteering at the local foodbank.
Or…you get the idea.
Discipleship doesn’t have to be heroic.
Like all the small acts of devotion, tenderness, and forgiveness that go largely unnoticed but tend the relationships that are most important to us, so also the life of faith is composed of a thousand small gestures.
Except that, according to Jesus, there is no small gesture. Anything done in faith and love has cosmic significance for the ones involved and, indeed, for the world God loves so much.
Exactly. Because Jesus has promised to come in time to redeem all in love, to fix all damage, heal all hurts, and wipe the tears from every eye, we can in the meantime devote ourselves to acts of mercy and deeds of compassion small and large, not trying to save the world — Jesus has promised to do that! — but simply trying to care for the little corner of the world in which we have been placed.
And so even a cup of cold water can make a huge and unexpected difference to those to whom we give it and, according to Jesus, such acts have eternal and cosmic consequences.”
As the words of a hymn the choir used to sing in my home church says,
“There`s a work for Jesus only you can do”.
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 3RD
This Sunday`s Gospel is Matthew 11: 16-19,25-end.
I want to share with you some thoughts on the passage by Catherine McElhinney and Kathryn Turner from their online blog Weekly Wellsprings.
“The words from today’s Gospel have found their way onto prayer cards and can be found in thousands of Missals, prayer-books, handbags and pockets.
There are times in everyone’s life when the invitation “Come to Me all you who labour” sounds like music to our souls. There are times when we are overburdened and weary - when we are confused - when life seems to overwhelm us. Other people seem to be so much better at coping than we do - and we wonder, sometimes, what their secret is. The promise of rest in Jesus seems very sweet.
A slight complication is His addition:
“take My yoke upon you...”
How is this giving rest for people’s souls? Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus berates the Pharisees for laying burdens on people’s backs and not lifting a finger to help them to carry them. Is He not doing the same here? Perhaps - but He promises that His yoke is easy - and the burden light.
Jesus does not weigh His disciples down with teaching that they cannot follow. Yes, it is tough sometimes, but it is always founded on love. Jesus invites His disciples to shoulder His yoke and learn from Him - gentle and humble in heart. Here, He may be referring to the practice of yoking a young and inexperienced animal alongside one who is well-trained. The more experienced creature trains the other almost by example - gradually, it learns how to work until the day when it can manage alone. Perhaps too, an older one approaching the end of its working life may be yoked to the one in its prime - so that it can still work but the strain is taken by the partner.
So with us too, perhaps - Jesus invites us to take His yoke so that He can teach us - not by laying burdens upon us - but walking alongside us and helping us to learn to do things His way... and promising too that He will never leave us overburdened. When it all gets too much - or we lose our way - He will be there alongside us again - a gentle, humble but infinitely strong and wise Leader.”
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 10TH
“The “Word of God” is an elusive and complicated topic, isn’t it? What comes to mind for people in the pews when they hear “Word of God”? What do they picture? What do they envision? A big, dusty Bible on a shelf that they never read? A worn and tattered-paged confirmation Bible on their bedside table that they read every night? The lessons that are printed in the bulletin every week that they then toss in the recycling bin? And what is the Word of God anyway?
The answer to that question would be anything other what seems obvious — the Word of God is a book or words from the Bible printed somewhere, whether in a bulletin, an insert or on a projection screen. The Word of God is words.
I wonder if anyone might actually think that the Word of God could be an experience. After all, the Word of God did become flesh. Those who met Jesus in his ministry did not just think, “Wow, he’s got some good stuff to say.”
No, somehow the words and the encounter were inseparable. The words could not be understood without the particular experience in which they were heard.
The biblical passages for this week, particularly from Isaiah and Matthew, suggest that the Word of God is an experience. And listening is the key to that experience.
“Let anyone with ears listen.” Matthew 13:9.
The verb “to listen” is in present tense.
To hear God’s Word is not a one-time occurrence but an ongoing characteristic of discipleship.
Listening is essential to discipleship. What did you hear?
Where are you in this parable?
Or better yet, when and how have you felt all of these responses to God’s Word?
And what do you experience in this listening today?
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 17TH
The Gospel passage for this Sunday is from Matthew 13 vs.24-30,36-43, once referred to as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
The following article is from the website Ministry Matters.
I leave it with you for your personal reflection.
“I always thought that weeds were plants who didn’t have a good press agent. Here they are, trying to grow as best they can, and they get labelled weeds. People want to remove them from their fine green lawns.
Where I live, the lawns are cared for by a landscaping crew. The sod was carefully laid in the prepared beds. Then those green strips of specially selected grass were watered and watched diligently.
Day after day they continued to grow, but so did something else…….dandelions! Ah, those pesky plants! “We’ve got to get rid of them,” some people say, “they are messing up and spoiling my beautiful lawn. Dig ‘em up! Throw them in the pile of other weeds and cast them out of your presence. Then all will be well. The beautifully manicured lawn can return to its glory!”
This story in our gospel is not about lawns but about a crop that is essential for the survival of the family who owns the field and for those who receive the bread or other goods made from this plant (often referred to as wheat). This is no joke to these people. They need to harvest as much good grain as possible! And those weeds are drinking up valuable water and taking nutrients from the soil. They grow faster than the grain-bearing plants and often will choke out the newly sprouted wheat. So, the solution is to get rid of them. Get them out of the way. After all the field was meant for good grain only. No weeds allowed.
I guess that I’m a heretic. I like dandelions. Yes, I know that the flowers turn into little clusters of umbrella born seeds, planting themselves all over the place. After a dark, cold, snow-filled winter, I long for change, for the newness of life which is the promise of spring.
Although I enjoy the beauty of my yard, I rejoice over these delightful plants sprouting in my velvety smooth front yard. There in the midst of all that green are bright yellow flowers shining like little rays of sunlight. They remind me of the lavishness of God’s love, cast broadly for everyone.
Then one day, the landscaper came with his trowel and dug up all my dandelions. He did not carefully patch up the holes he created. He stepped on the dirt he replaced in the holes and went on his way, having cast the noxious weeds into his wheelbarrow to be discarded in some out of the way place.
How does God view us! Some would say that God wants only lovely plants – no weeds for God. But I believe that God has a special place in God’s heart for the weeds. I part with the scripture about the destruction of the weeds. God loves all God’s creation and redeems all creation. Nothing held back. It’s okay to have a velvety green lawn and to enjoy it, but remember that those we call weeds just might have lessons about perseverance and risk to teach us.
Look around. Everything has worth and purpose, everyone has potential.
In the end, God will sort it all out.”
MINISTER`S BLOG JULY 24TH
This Sunday`s Gospel is Matthew 13 vs.31-34 and 44–52.
Here are some thoughts from David Lose for your reflection.
“Jesus’ parables remind us that the faith we preach and the kingdom we announce finally isn’t an intellectual idea but an experience, an experience of the creative and redemptive power of God that continues to change lives.
And sometimes the only way to get beyond our head and into our hearts is to, as Emily Dickenson advised,
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
And so parables come at us sideways, catching us by surprise to take our breath away at the beauty and depth of God’s promises.
This week’s passage presents us with a series of parables that evoke distinct elements of God’s kingdom.
The first two parables about mustard seed and leaven are about the surprising presence, even invasiveness, of God’s reality and reign, while the second set leans more in the direction of the extreme surprise and delight we experience when we discover, even stumble upon, the peace and joy of the kingdom.
What do these brief parables mean?
Perhaps to some they may function as something as an evangelical warning: Be careful. People who have been infected by the gospel have done crazy, counter-cultural things like sharing all they have with others, standing up for their values in school or the workplace, looking out for the underprivileged, and sharing their faith with the people around them. Perhaps to others, however, these parables will serve as a much-needed word of encouragement: Hang in there! God’s new reality is closer than you think,
already seeping into your life
even though you can’t always feel it.
To others still, these parables will come as a profound promise: No matter what it may look like, God’s kingdom will prevail. And so in the face of war, we claim God’s peace. When confronted with illness, we look to God’s eternal healing. When faced with hate, we proclaim love. Why?
Because the kingdom is coming and before you know it will transform everything.”
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Minister ~ Rev Alan Kennedy 07733153203 01612703296 firstname.lastname@example.org