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- Highlights from the Church Workshops on 7th November 2013 November 28, 2013
The 2nd Church Workshops were held on 7th November. Here is what was discussed:
Church charity 2014: After some discussion it was agreed that the church charity will be jointly Hope and the Friary, both of which do similar work in different locations around Nottingham. Ivor Moon, Ladies Circle and Anne Wragg will take this forward. Please get in touch with them to get involved.
Church Christmas cards of invitation: We agreed that it would be good to have information about Christmas services for people outside our usual congregation, to be available to groups coming on to church premises and possibly distributed to local houses. This should be across the Beeston Methodist churches and possibly Ecumenical. A group led by Joyce Brown will be looking further at this. Please get in touch with Joyce if you would be interested in helping with this project.
Bereavement group: There is an opportunity for a group of people to become involved in visiting the family of those who have had a funeral at our church. This should be a Beeston Methodist Churches initiative. Training and support for those undertaking the work would be important. Colin Barrett will speak to Anthony Oakley about the possibility about setting up such a group.
Mission to baptismal families: It was decided to explore the possibility of inviting members of the church to become church Godparents, each keeping in touch as appropriate with a single baptismal family for as long as appropriate. This could be through birthday cards and invitations to church events, for example last year a baptismal family Christmas party was held and it is intended to repeat it this year. Ann Duffin will speak to Alison Rowe to explore this suggestion further. Further information will follow.
Church welcome booklet / pack: The welcome booklet produced by the Forward group has become very out of date, and can no longer be used. It was agreed that we should have a well produced booklet which is available for both newcomers to the church and users of the church premises. This should be printed in the church office so that it can be updated as appropriate. Neville Bostock will convene a group to organise this.
Event for 18-25(ish) year olds: It was agreed that it is important to find out what we could provide for this age group from people of the age group themselves. It is therefore intended to arrange an event and ask those associated with the church who are in this age group if they would be willing to come along and discuss this for the benefit of the church. Colin Barrett, Chris Prickard and Ray Heasley will take this forward.
Decorating the church for Christmas: The advent liturgy this year is based on travelling to Bethlehem; the congregation will be invited to bring parts of their nativity sets each week (eg week one – angels). It was agreed that it would be a good idea to decorate the 4 main windows downstairs with a backdrop ready to receive these items each week (one window for angels etc), which would then remain and build up to Christmas. It was also suggested that the church groups could be invited to each decorate a Christmas tree to go in the windows in the two transepts of the church. Please speak to Diane Bown to offer help.
Invite a person for Sunday lunch: We were reminded that this initiative will be launched with a Sunday lunch at church on 24th November, but that people (both those offering to invite people for lunch and those who would enjoy going to someone’s house for lunch) are very welcome to join in at a later date even if they were not able to get to this initial lunch. Please speak to Dianne Blakeley for more details.
For more information on any of these, please get in touch with the people mentioned directly, through the pigeon holes, or email via the church office at email@example.com
- Enough food for everyone IF May 31, 2013
We’re going, anyone else fancy coming?
ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF
In the run-up to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on 17/18 June, the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign is staging a rally in Hyde Park, London on Saturday 8 June. Thousands of people will be coming together to raise their voices and demand an end to the scandal of hunger – a scandal that still sees 1 in 8 people without enough food.
David Cameron and other world leaders at the G8 could help change the lives of millions of hard-working families struggling to put food on the table. With a child dying every 15 seconds from hunger, this really is the silent injustice of our age.
But we can do something about it, and your voice can help. We can make a difference IF we demand world leaders give life-saving aid, stop tax dodging in the poorest countries, stop land grabs and grow food not biofuel.
For more information please go to http://enoughfoodif.org/
If you are interested in coming Christian Aid are organising a coach from Nottingham, please contact JPerry@christian-aid.org
- Mission: Rescue. Prayer Points April 7, 2013
This year’s Holiday Club is Mission: Rescue. Taking on a spy/secret agent theme, it looks at rescue focusing on the story of how God saved the Israelites from Egypt using Moses and how God’s ultimate rescue plan involves Jesus.
During Holiday Club week, please pray for the following:
- That we have a good turnout of children
- That we make everyone that comes feel welcome and settles in
- That everyone is safe
- Leaders as they lead games, crafts and learning from the story of Moses
- That as well as having lots of fun, we learn about God and that the faith of both leaders and attenders grows
- That attenders and their families come to the Holiday Club Service (14th April) and that it may be a way to welcome new people into our congregation
- The Envision Event: One Person’s Reflection March 12, 2013
I thought we had a great afternoon last Sunday (3rd March) at the Envision event at Queen’s Road. It was good to see a packed church and even the balcony used. I thought the presentations were thoughtful and measured. I might have been lucky in my small group, but we had representatives from 4 of the churches involved (Wollaton Rd, Clarkes Lane, Rylands and Chilwell Rd) and we agreed about almost everything. It was a lovely atmosphere.
The main thing we agreed about was that we would love to have a new build church but the most important thing was to work what we’ve got, be pragmatic and not allow the momentum that has been built up to die. If we do end up using the Chilwell Rd site, Chilwell Rd members will have to work hard at ‘giving up’ the old church and truly seeing a new church as somewhere that belongs to all of us in Beeston and Chilwell.
I have heard that some of the groups were not as positive but the service afterwards had a good feel to it.
If you went to the Envision, what sort of experience did you have?
By Connie Pullan
- Do as the old folk do November 19, 2012
Do as the old folk do
The comedian Peter Kay cracks a joke about not knowing which coloured bin to put out for the refuse collectors each week. He smiles at the audience, raises an eyebrow, and says: “I just copy old people.”
Why does that get a laugh? It’s not a joke about pensioners – there is no cruelty in it. It’s a confessional joke. It’s funny because most of his middle-aged audience recognise ourselves in what he says. And we realise those sitting beside us do to. But until that moment we all thought we were the only ones furtively glancing down the street each week to see which bins our older neighbours had put out!
It’s a joke that tells us something about our hectic, modern lifestyles. We live in a world where only people who are retired seem to have time to be organised enough to know whether it’s a green, black or brown bin day.
To flourish the church needs to acknowledge this and adapt. It is not sufficient to offer one major act of worship a week – the 10.30 Sunday morning service. For too many families Sunday is another working day; it’s a day the children play football; it’s the only day free to spend with non-churchgoing partners. For some it’s a genuinely important day of rest – to convalesce from the frantic week just passed.
Chilwell Road is recognising this. Alison’s World Space is an occasional midweek opportunity for contemplation of the issues facing the world and creative prayer. Colin’s Open Space is a new Tuesday lunchtime opportunity for communion and prayer. Sarah’s Play Church is a way of serving the families who may not have the time or inclination to bring their children to Junior Church on Sunday but appreciate the opportunity for spiritual reflection midweek after toddler group. She’s also running Messy Church at Wollaton Road.
The success of these ventures cannot be measured in attendance. What matters is that the church is open and trying to meet our spiritual needs at times that suit us better and in ways that are most meaningful.
There’s a much longer established service we hold that fits into this category too. It’s the fortnightly 9am communion. I recently discovered this and have been encouraging our young people to attend. They really enjoy it (as do their parents). It’s a tranquil, half-hour service with a short, focused address.
It’s a good introduction to adult worship for them. It’s also a good service for busy families who may not have time to attend the longer, later service. To encourage the teenagers to attend I’ve started a Breakfast Club afterwards. It’s been so enjoyable we’ve now opened it up to the whole congregation.
Apparently this service was initiated years ago because the Junior Church teachers were missing out on worship, but somehow we forgot about it. It has attracted only a small number of mainly older members of the congregation.
Which brings me back to Peter Kay. We obviously need to watch older people more closely – they know something we don’t! Come and join us for communion, prayer and simple breakfast fellowship and you’ll see what I mean.
- World Missions Weekend October 28, 2012
American missionaries Kevin and Carol Seckel made a big impact on many people during an informal evening event and two well attended united services at Wollaton Road and Chilwell Road to mark World Missions Weekend on October 20/21.
The Rev Colin and Muriel Barrett, who established a close friendship with the Seckels during their ministry in Germany, invited the couple to share their remarkable experiences of modern missionary work with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.
The Seckels are currently based in Frankfurt am Main, where the Rev Kevin is the pastor of the New Hope English-speaking congregation and the Rev Carol is co-ordinator of the English-speaking international congregations in Germany.
As the Sunday evening united service at Wollaton Road drew to a close, the Rev Colin said it had been a tremendous weekend. He thanked Kevin and Carol for providing a really refreshing and enlightening insight into what was happening in the wider world.
The couple related many stories from the 18 years they served in Alaska and four years in Latvia. Their great love of missionary work shone through and we will long remember the unique way the Rev Kevin preaches the gospel through his “string ministry.”
In his hands, the brightly coloured pieces of string turn into a wonderful visual aid. During an informal introductory event, he showed us some simple moves. By the end of the weekend a few were pretty adept with the strings while others were left tied in knots. But no matter – Kevin’s main message about the love of God was vividly conveyed.
The Saturday event at Wollaton Road began with a happy acknowledgement that Colin and Muriel Barrett were celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary on October 21. Muriel was presented with flowers and Colin received a gift and a card containing many signatures.
Carol outlined the couple’s varied ministry and said it was marvellous to see God working in people’s lives. With the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, Kevin explained how his enthusiasm for fast cars was the starting point for the exciting Lode Atrums project in Latvia.
A 4,000 dollar grant enabled a goat shed to be converted into a workshop, where 16 young villagers learned new skills and assembled two kit cars. Former world motor cycling champion and Formula One driver John Surtees sent signed photographs to the project, which brought new hope in an area, where poverty and unemployment were major concerns.
The Seckels left Latvia in 2004 because of family circumstances. But the couple are making a return visit in December to be reunited with their many friends in the former Soviet bloc country.
At the joint Sunday morning service at Chilwell Road, we enjoyed rousing hymns backed by the music group and guided by Kevin, a group of children at the front of the church and the congregation got to grips with the strings.
Presenting JMA awards and certificates to a group of young people, Heather Brough thanked collectors and supporters for raising £976 to assist projects in Brazil and Ghana and a church based in an office block in Liverpool.
Giving the main address, the Rev Carol said she and Kevin were delighted to be in Beeston. Describing her varied work in Germany, she was convinced that transmigration on a global scale was here to stay. She felt her main role was to be a bridge builder, celebrating the diversity of different cultures while sharing the love of Jesus Christ that brings us together.
Kevin and Carol flew back to Frankfurt on October 22 to continue their work in Germany. They will return to America in two years to retire and look forward to spending more time with their six grandchildren.
- 50 years of Local Preaching! August 15, 2012
Ivor Woodhouse Moon MBE
In our morning service on Sunday 12th August 2012 Stephen Travis presented Ivor Moon with a certificate in recognition of his long service as a Methodist Local Preacher. Ivor’s preaching ministry begun in 1948 when he was living in Newhall, Derbyshire. George Clamp, the owner of the village fish and chip shop and Ivor’s father-in-law, asked Ivor to accompany him one Sunday to his preaching appointment at Ticknall (near Melbourne). George didn’t feel very well that day and asked Ivor to preach the sermon – which he duly did. “It wasn’t a big church,” says Ivor. “If you had a plate of sandwiches you could have passed it from the pulpit to the balcony without any trouble!” From the smallest of seeds the greatest of trees can grow! Ivor was very involved in the Sunday School. He had been the Secretary since the age of 14. Now he added the role of “exhorter” to his activities as he proclaimed the gospel in the Derbyshire mining towns and villages. Eventually he trained to be a Local Preacher and was brought on to the ‘full plan’ in 1962 by Rev. Ernest C. Willis at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in New Hall in the South Derbyshire Circuit. He came to Chilwell Road in 1966 when Albert Stanbury was the Minister and has been on our plan ever since. Ivor is proud of the fact that he has been to Buckingham Palace twice. In 1989 when he attended a garden party, in recognition of his work on the Board of Nottingham Prison and again in 2009 when he was awarded the MBE for his 70 years work in adult education. Considering that he has also been a magistrate for many years it is remarkable that he found time for his preaching appointments. However, with the great help and understanding of his wife Doris and of his grand-daughter Frances, who regularly typed out his sermons in large print, he has faithfully brought the wealth of his experience to the pulpit – and it has been a blessing to many. Ivor’s last appointment in his active ministry was at Butt St., Sandiacre on 20th May 2012. However, once a preacher, always a preacher! Ivor has the gift of warming one’s heart as he reflects on the golden thread of God’s love which he sees running through the whole of life. His continuing enthusiasm for preaching, theology and the Methodist Church is inspiring and we rejoice in our continuing fellowship with him as one of Mr. Wesley’s Preachers.Written by C. Barrett
- Messy Church May 29, 2012
On Saturday 26th May at around 4pm it was part way through our David and Goliath themed Messy Church at Wollaton Road Methodist. I had a moment between helping different children making crowns to glance around our Messy Church. In front of me were a table full of children constructing and decorating crowns (because David became king). On the table to my right, someone was helping a young child spread paint over a sheet of paper to add to the massive Goliath. On my left there was a table where adults and children diligently decorated rocks. Through the door into the church people were helping each other make sling shots before they got to practise shooting ping-pong balls at Goliath.
The atmosphere was great. People of different ages were talking to each other and helping each other. There was a sense of fun, but also of purpose. One activity was finished before going on to the next. Children and adults alike were concentrating on their creations.
This is how Messy Church generally starts. There are a series of activities, mostly craft but some other things, like crawling into the belly of a pretend fish, shooting Goliath or a prayer station. People can choose which they go to and when. There’s time for conversations about what we’re doing, about God and about things going on. The different activities are then tied together with a time of celebration. This takes the form of a bible story and talk with song and prayer. We then wrap up our time with a meal together.
The main aim of Messy Church is open up the church to families that don’t otherwise go to church. Obviously families are very welcome at our Sunday services and here at Chilwell Road we are blessed with many children. As much as churches can make families welcome in Sunday services, still many people don’t come for a whole host of reasons. Some may be unable, due to work. Some may not view coming to church as important as other activities. Others may perceive church as a boring place with odd customs where you need to know when to stand or sit, where they sing boring, long hymns and someone stands at the front and tells them what they should and shouldn’t do. Messy Church offers something different that these people may find more appealing.
So far it has been very successful. Up and down the country there are stories of churches with almost no children that have started Messy Churches and have reached many people with whom they’d previously had no contact. They are a great opportunity to reach new people with the gospel message. I pray that our Messy Church is successful in reaching many families in Beeston that otherwise wouldn’t come to church.
Don’t expect Messy Church to increase the numbers of families in Sunday worship. That generally doesn’t happen, but I know of no church where it has led to a decrease in the number of Sunday worshippers.
Messy Church is exciting though. It’s an area of growth, where new people are being welcomed into the church. We share in fellowship and faith. People are interested. Families are worshipping together.
I would encourage anyone interested or curious about Messy Church to visit our next one (30th June 3:30-5:30pm at Wollaton Road Methodist Church). They are fantastic events to invite families that don’t normally attend church. Also extra help would be appreciated, ranging from helping in the kitchen, assisting children with a craft activity, welcoming and chatting to people or helping move furniture. If you’re interested in coming or helping or just would like more information, please contact me!
- The Church Family Worker now has a blog! May 29, 2012
Yes, it’s here! The Church Family Worker blog, for now as part of the Church blog. I’ve been intending for some time to get this started.
The main aims of my posts are to let people know what I get up to, what projects I’m involved in and advertise events that may be of particular interest.
If you do have any questions for me or if you want to know more about anything I’ve mentioned, please be in touch!
- Messing up the church May 22, 2012
Most of us will have been brought up in a traditional church: formal, measured and thoughtful. We partake of the Sabbath ritual of attendance at chapel, church or cathedral, wearing our Sunday best, sitting in the same seat, sharing in a timeless liturgy. That’s what is now being described somewhat pejoratively as the ‘inherited church’, just as we traditionalists have sometimes used ‘happy-clappy’ to describe the 1970’s dumbing-down of our best efforts, a generation ago.
And now a new phenomenon has arisen from an Anglican stable and spread to the Methodist Connexion too: ‘Messy Church’. As its name suggests, it seems to owe more to a currently-fashionable primary school ethos than to a strict Wesleyan style of churchmanship. Its meetings are neither weekly nor on the Sabbath; it abhors order and ordination; it appeals to spirit rather than law; it puts children at the centre.
Our own church is experimenting with such a ‘fresh expression of church’, albeit on another church’s premises. Consistent with its central ethos, Beeston’s Messy Church has evolved neither as an expression of the considered will of the church council, nor as a response to a Connexional directive. Like Topsy, ‘it just growed’.
In this Pentecost season, no-one would want to curb the movement of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit may well move folk to abandon their inherited church and play football or shop on Sundays instead. It may well empower all and sundry to exercise their creative talents and engage in unregulated leadership of activities on behalf of the church community. But, on the basis of recent experience, the establishment will wake up to this perceived laxity and tighten its grip on outreach conducted in its name. What’s good for a church website may prove good for messy church too.
- Methodist Blues May 21, 2012
Do we recognise ourselves here? After all, there’s many a true word spoken in jest.
Courtesy: PrairieHomeVideos on YouTube
- Praying at work May 17, 2012
Last night in Beeston there was a curious Methodist contribution to the recent discussion about prayers at Town Hall meetings. Broxtowe Borough Council was assembled for a critical debate on essential housing development and green belt encroachment: the public galleries and an overflow chamber were crammed full, our MP had travelled down from Westminster to act as cheer-leader for petitioners on one side of the issue, and East Midlands BBC TV parked its transmitter van on the Mayor’s lawn and [political editor] John Hess was interviewing the key players.
The bell rang out for prayers just before 7 o’clock, but the chaplain was nowhere to be seen. The quick-thinking Mayor called upon one of the two Circuit local preachers among the councillors to deputise, and he offered an extempore prayer which received a chorus of approving Amens from both councillors and residents. He went on to start the debate with a comprehensive speech proposing the adoption of a new core strategy for the next 15 years’ development.
It shows that having a star against your name on the circuit plan does not mean you aren’t regarded by people outside the church as still fully-accredited and active. And it shows that local Methodists are putting their faith into action in a very public way.
- Can God bless Britain? May 13, 2012
When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, his officials warned him not to end one of his speeches with the words “God bless Britain”. Advisors told him “this is not America” and persuaded him to drop the idea.
Mr Blair told the story at a conference organised by Holy Trinity Brompton, a large Evangelical Anglican church in London.
He said: “You know the American president finishes an address to the American people by saying ‘God bless America’. I had the idea of finishing my address by saying ‘God bless Britain’. This caused consternation in the whole system. A committee was convened, and we had to discuss it.
“I remember we had this debate on and off but finally one of the civil servants said in a very po-faced way ‘I just remind you Prime Minister, this is not America’ in this very disapproving tone, so I gave up the idea. I think it is a shame that you can’t since it is obviously part of what you are.”
But Mr Blair warned: “I think God and religion can also be abused by politicians too so you have got to be careful.”
Now there’s a nice example of the separation of church and state: paradoxically what America claims to do best.
[Story from the The Christian Institute]
- Action for Children in Beeston & Chilwell May 1, 2012
Wollaton Road Methodist Church hosted a dedicated Action for Children service led by the Revd Colin Barrett to thank Home Collection box-holders from the Beeston and Chilwell Support Group who have raised funds over the past year. The seven Home Collection Box secretaries and over 120 box-holders made the annual box-opening event even more special by facilitating stalls selling cards, cakes, biscuits and books with all proceeds going to the charity. This year £2,500 was raised from the event and box lists combined. Astoundingly, the combined experience of the secretaries is more than 130 years!
Irene Davies is 83-years-old and has been a Home Collection Box secretary for a staggering 67 years. She started her collection box list at the end of World War II in 1945 at Clarke’s Lane Church in Beeston. In 1954, she established Inham Nook Methodist Church with her late husband Wyn, starting a new list of three box-holders which quickly grew to 40. She said: “We have arranged many fundraising events over the years and estimate to have raised over £50,000 for Action For Children during this time.”
Margaret Picksley is 88-years-old and has been a Home Collection Box secretary for nine years. During that time her list has raised £3,461. “I support Action for Children to make a difference,” she said. “I have supported the charity for over 80 years and remember selling the Sunny Smiles booklets and, of course, the Festival of Queens fundraising event. It is important to care for children who are underprivileged.”
If you or someone you know would like to join the League of Light, by having a home collection box in their home, please contact the Action for Children Customer Support team on 0300 123 2112. They will put you in touch with a local Home Collection Box secretary or an Action for Children local fundraiser. Every penny makes a difference to the children and young people they support.
Text and photo from Methodist eNews: The Buzz #106 [May 1 2012]
- Local church eyes pub for takeover April 14, 2012
Methodists in Beeston and Chilwell are looking for new premises in the town centre to provide a single central location for their mission and service to Beeston. Although the town is being redeveloped, there are few likely spots for a brand new church and an alternative is to “convert” an existing building.
Can we learn a lesson from St Ann’s in Nottingham where The Westminster, a Punch Taverns pub, is being eyed up by the local Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to buy it? There are a couple of pubs in Beeston with decent car-parks that would seem suitable.
St Ann’s local residents are reported to oppose the deal. “The pub has played a major part in in the community here.” “We would have no community left if it were turned into a church”. What spirit of community would Beeston Methodists bring to our town?
Others complained, “There are already more churches than pubs in St Ann’s. We don’t need another church.” At least that sort of criticism would not be heard round here if four Methodist churches closed.
But would Methodists, traditionally strong temperance campaigners, feel comfortable worshipping in a converted pub?
- Make a joyful noise unto the LORD April 11, 2012
Last week the pastor of a Nottingham church appeared in the Magistrates Court facing nuisance charges under the Environmental Protection Act. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay fines and surcharges of almost £700. Pastor Samuel did not offer a defence on the grounds of the Psalmist’s injunction to “make a joyful noise unto the LORD: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise”. The noise in question was amplified music, singing and preaching which could be heard across several streets.
The enthusiasm of John Wesley and the Primitive Methodist ranters might well have placed them in a similar situation, but on the whole Methodists are more restrained these days. Is it because we are more considerate of our neighbours (whose prayers were said to have been answered), or less willing to proclaim our faith publically?
- The house fell, and great was the fall thereof April 2, 2012
- Methodist words for all April 2, 2012
What a treat to find an online version of the Dictionary of Methodism, made available through the Wesley Historical Society. At a time when the inherited church is being down-played in contrast with “fresh expressions”, it is good to be reminded of its achievements in such a convenient way.
With a click or two we can read brief biographies of the great and the good: the ministers we remember from our youth [Eric Baker, William Gowland and Kenneth Greet] and the missionaries who have inspired us [Andrew Pearson and Howard Souster].
We can revisit places that have shaped us [Ilesha and Mow Cop] and list famous local preachers [David Frost!], and review our distinctive doctrines [Christian perfection and Sin] and our traditional practices [Temperance and Pacifism].
There are hours of delight and instruction here. Good holiday reading for young and old.
- Swearing in public: OMG! March 29, 2012
Those who know me well can confirm that I’m not given to swearing, either in public or in private: a consequence perhaps of good parenting, good churching and good schooling in Birmingham. But I was driven to swear today, and in Birmingham of all places.
I was engaged in the somewhat daunting process of applying for a grant of probate, obtaining the authority to manage the financial assets of a dear relation who died at Christmastime. The Family Division of the High Court of Justice needed to be assured both that I was indeed the person duly appointed and also that I would indeed carry out the deceased’s wishes expressed in her last will and testimony. A serious business, no doubt, and not to be conducted by merely signing documents, with or without disinterested witnesses. And not, you might imagine, to be conducted in the corner of an untidy office with hand-written posters on the wall, across a counter, with clerks chattering and bystanders trying to look the other way. No sign of wigs or gowns, no ornate coat of arms, and little or no solemnity.
Just a bible. I put my hand upon it and recited the simple oath. That made it all OK. As the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews said long ago: “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.”
Who said we’re no longer a Christian country?
- Methodist church statement on Budget Day March 21, 2012
The Methodist Church takes a wider view, and presses, in particular, for stronger measures against tax avoidance. Fairness in allocating the tax burden is the churches’ principle, along with ensuring that the poorest are protected from the heaviest burdens.
Update: Dr Paul Morrison, Methodist policy officer for the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT), appeared as an expert witness on the Radio 4′s Moral Maze programme on tax policy and practice tonight.
- ‘God is in control’ [front page headline in The Sun] March 19, 2012
Writing headlines is a fine art. This prized prerogative of a newspaper’s sub-editor remains a regular challenge to a blogger: how to catch the attention of a fleeting reader without giving away the whole story. Today’s headline in the print version of The Sun may not be quite up there with their ‘Gotcha’ just 30 years ago, but will be enough to raise eyebrows among readers not normally wanting more religious content than pictorial versions of the Song of Solomon’s erotic verses on page three, or the ghost-written column by a populist Archbishop of York in the new Sunday editions that replace the deservedly defunct NOW.
The story which provides this bold statement of Christian faith relates to the outcome of the collapse and resuscitation of a popular overseas footballer, Congo refugee Patrice Muamba, during a televised cup-tie. The words used are actually part of a quote from his fiancée and they reflect the prayerful messages of support from such unlikely sources as Arsene Wenger and David Beckham. The usual banal cliché uttered even by secular commentators, “our thoughts and prayers are with you at this sad time,” has for once appeared to have some genuine meaning.
So the church may perhaps draw comfort from this apparent conversion of the godless and much-maligned British press. Or would it be too cynical to wonder whether The Sun’s hidden agenda is to use its new-found Christian credentials to get its own columnist into Lambeth Palace later this year to replace the sainted Rowan?
- A Fairtrade church in a fairtrade town March 11, 2012
Fairtrade Beeston was delighted to hold a “meet the producer” evening on March 6, in celebration of Fairtrade fortnight. Our special guest speaker for the evening was Moses Renee, a banana farmer from St Lucia, who was touring the East Midlands to speak about his life as a farmer and the difference Fairtrade makes to his community. Moses told us of the challenges posed by hurricanes, the mountainous landscape and competition from huge plantations in South America, and explained ways the farmers sought to overcome them. He left the audience in no doubt that without Fairtrade, which guarantees a price above the cost of production, forbids the use of child labour and encourages sustainable environmentally friendly methods of cultivation, banana farming would come to an end in St Lucia.
A range of refreshments were enjoyed together, with many in the audience sharing their own Fairtrade stories with each other. Representatives from The Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Iguazu ( in Beeston) and Fairplay (in Nottingham) were on hand to demonstrate the wide range of Fairtrade goods now available, from food to crafts, clothing and games.
It was fascinating to learn a little of Moses’ life and wonderful to realise what a difference we can make. The theme of this year’s Fairtrade fortnight is taking steps, with the idea that we all pledge to do something new for Fairtrade. I came away inspired to buy more Fairtrade gifts for friends and family, in the knowledge that every purchase has a positive impact on people in developing countries.
Posted by Jenny Sheriff, Fairtrade organiser for Chilwell Road.
- Humpty Dumpty and Alice on marriage March 6, 2012
Such a debate about language seems to be at the centre of the current flurry of agitation over “gay marriage.” Conservative Christians (like Cardinal Keith O’Brien) want marriage to mean what the Christian church means by it, while social reformers (even conservatives like David Cameron) want it to mean something rather different.
If we in the church decide to fight over it, let us at least be clear about one thing: marriage means, and has meant, different things in different societies in different times. There is no single gold standard: no Christian consensus on marriage.
Marriage in the OT was to create kinship and establish families, and was effected by the man’s paying a bride-price for his wife – or indeed wives, for polygamy was not uncommon especially when the first wife was infertile. The wife was a chattel and could be divorced at will.
Jesus, whose first miracle was performed at a wedding ceremony, was unmarried and ambiguous about divorce and had an unconventional view of kinship. Paul viewed marriage as a sacred covenant between a man and a woman, and even used it as a model for the relation between the Christ and the church.
Contemporary churches see marriage variously as a sacrament, a covenant, a contract or a sacred institution. The elements of marriage relating to procreation and indissolubility differ widely between them: the Mormons regard marriage as lasting beyond death. The current Methodist Church statement is here.
Despite the long-term decline in marriage, the traditional family unit of a couple with dependent children has remained the norm at least until recently. The strength of the family already relies less upon ties of kinship and blood, thanks partly to adoption, surrogacy and single-parenting. What is new is the suggestion that, far from the injunction for a “man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one,” marriage now might also cleave two men or two women together. The church, which has adapted its practices and attitudes over the years in the face of societal shifts, can reformulate its ideas for today, and this exercise should make Christian marriage even stronger, building on what we do well – emphasising love, commitment and self-giving under God.
But we may have to do something new to promote family and kinship, those biological building blocks of society which might be weakened by the promotion of gay marriage. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the Cardinal referred, states that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” That would be a good place to start.
Update: The government launched a consultation on Equal Civil Marriage on March 15 2012 to seek views on how they can remove the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage in a way that works for everyone. They state that no changes will be made to how religious organisations define and solemnize religious marriages and that they will retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples.
- A road by any other name … February 24, 2012
Among dusty documents in the church safe last week, this 1932 deed was discovered showing that the driveway along the SW side of the church was once known as Wesley Avenue. The name has since fallen into disuse, and indeed it may not have survived the Union of that year that brought our Wesleyan Methodist Church (along with the Primitive Methodists in Wollaton Road) into a single united Methodist Church.
Now the driveway is being opened up and adopted to allow public access to a small new car park next door: so what a marketing opportunity to get part of it formally renamed Wesley Avenue! “I’ll meet you at the corner of Wesley Avenue” or “The concert is in that old church with the spire, in Wesley Avenue”.
“Avenue” is a bit over the top although it does boast a single lime tree. The planners may take a bit of persuading, but we could soon rustle up a petition to be presented to Council. After all, the drive has got to be called something. There is already a Wesley Place in Stapleford with a real Wesleyan Church where our founder John himself once preached.
But what does all this say about contemporary church politics? We are trying to bring the disparate Methodist churches in Beeston and Chilwell closer together, and any re-emphasis on “Wesley” could be seen as divisive. On the other hand, some are exploring the possibility of abandoning the church in favour of a common Beeston Methodist Church elsewhere in the town centre, so an enduring Wesley Avenue place-marker could be a lasting legacy.
Comments please. Or shall I start an on-line poll?
- … that house cannot stand February 20, 2012
The demolishers arrived on our church premises today: the first signs of work to prepare the way for the tram.
They cut down a tree (to stop birds nesting) and fenced off the site of the house and garden abutting our drive, once known as Wesley Avenue.
There are minor parking restrictions in the drive, but eventually the small additional public car park here should encourage the Sunday congregation!
It will be business as usual in church, of course. We are NOT due for demolition!
- To me, being a Christian means … February 14, 2012
A major Ipsos Mori survey of what Christians believe is published today by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Adults identifying themselves as Christian in last year’s census (54% of the population, down from 72% in 2001) were asked about their attitudes to religion and government, as well as about practical aspects of religion like church attendance, bible reading, prayer and beliefs.
Those of us who are preachers and organizers of church services and fellowship groups need to realise that only half of “Christians” had actually attended services and only 40% had opened their bibles in a year. Three-quarters did not believe completely in the power of prayer, and only 32% believed that Jesus was physically resurrected.
In the realm of public policy, 74% agree that religion should not have any special influence, and almost as many (69%) say that Christianity had little or no influence in their own choice of marriage partner.
Asked to select which one statement best describes what being a Christian means to them personally, 40% chose ‘I try to be a good person’ and around a quarter (26%) chose ‘It’s how I was brought up’. Around one in six (16%) selected the statement ‘I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour’ and less than one in ten (7%) chose ‘I believe in the teachings of Jesus’.
Would Chilwell Road members see themselves reflected in these descriptions of Christians? If not, is it because Methodists are out of line with the majority of self-identifying Christians, or simply further along the path of discipleship?
What we can’t do is to limit the use of the label “Christian” to people with particular beliefs or practices. I wonder if we could also say the same about “Methodists”?
- Church members featured on Radio Nottingham February 14, 2012
Later in the same programme, one of the group is interviewed about what it meant to have to move house because her home is to be demolished to make way for the tram, and another phoned in with her views (as a local councillor) on the issue of public prayers at Council meetings.
- Let us pray … for Town Councils February 10, 2012
Methodists may well be surprised by today’s High Court ruling that the inclusion of prayers on the agenda of Town Council Meetings is unlawful “because there was no statutory power permitting the practice to continue”. These devotions are a long British tradition deriving from the established status of the church. The USA, on the other hand, explicitly separates church and state.
So if Eric Pickles does not succeed in his hasty promise to change the “banning” law, what will local councils miss? First will be the “inspiration from the almighty” channelled by the local chaplain at the start of each meeting of full council. Second will be the reminder that while an errant council may escape both an unwelcome appearance in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column and the electors’ booting out them out at the next election, a higher authority with an even longer term viewpoint is keeping his/her eye on proceedings.
I note that our local Borough Council in Broxtowe does indeed start its meetings with prayers. However, both the agenda and the minutes clearly demonstrate that the prayers are a mere preliminary to the main itemised business and therefore exempt from the strictures of the current law nor open for discussion in Matters Arising next time!
Update: Broxtowe Council have since moved their formal prayers to a slot 5 minutes before the formal agenda begins. On February 29 most councillors attended the meeting early to take advantage of the opportunity to pray for the proceedings!
Update 2: On May 16 Broxtowe Council was led in prayer by Methodist local preacher David Watts who is portfolio holder for Economic Development in the Borough.
- Nottingham couple win £45m lottery jackpot February 10, 2012
Methodists in the Nottingham and Derby District will have mixed reactions to the headline news that within the last fortnight, two young local couples have each won enormous sums exceeding £40 million on the lottery.
Some will rejoice with them over their new-found fortune, especially as the winners might have been described as the deserving poor (and not bankers, professional footballers or ex-convicts). This week’s winner, Matthew Topham, has family connections with Chilwell Road and recently helped decorate our premises. Some will applaud the winners’ generous determination to gift some of the proceeds to family and friends. Some may express perhaps just a small hint of envy, wishing they had shared the same blessing from heaven.
But others will regret the glorification of a system that spreads wealth so unfairly in rewarding gamblers rather than wealth-generators or service-providers. They will be uneasy at the prominence given to the disproportionate rewards offered by an industry that exploits the gullible and encourages addictive behaviour.
It is true that our Methodist Church has softened its traditional abhorrence of gambling in all its forms and now not only permits raffles in our church halls but also encourages church council to apply for grants for community development projects to the Lottery Board. It’s general approach to the National Lottery, as with other forms of gambling, is “to press for safeguards to protect people from harm as a result of gambling. Some gambling activities are particularly harmful, and certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable to this harm”.
I am sure we would welcome any opportunity to offer a free home to the local Gamblers Anonymous meeting! Or should we send a begging letter to Matthew?
- Just the ticket February 6, 2012
What is the purpose of our annual ticket of membership? Can you use it to get free entry to Wesley’s Chapel in London when other cathedrals charge tourists to see their splendid buildings? Do you have to show it before being admitted to a quarterly Communion Service as happens in some Calvinistic churches? Would it indicate that you would want a Methodist minister called in an emergency?
The answer: none of the above. Rather, its main purpose is to remind us of the specific Methodist “callings” that have brought us membership within the church, the body of Christ. The Catholic Church in England and Wales is now following suit, printing their similar callings on similar credit-card-sized tickets. One duty in particular caught my eye: Catholics are “to use their intellectual, emotional and spiritual gifts wisely”.
We Methodists don’t check up on each other’s performance, but at the end of the day ….
- “Old wine in an even older bottle” February 2, 2012
I was amused to read in today’s press the reaction of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister [incidentally their first woman politician to visit Afghanistan] to the NATO report about the alleged support of the Afghani Taleban by Pakistan secret services and armed forces.
Not that the report was untrue, nor that it had been leaked. No, it was described dismissively (in the slightly garbled words of the King James Version) as “old wine in an even older bottle”.
The only Christmas book gift that I have had time to open has been David Crystal’s “Begat”. He has explored the use and misuse of aphorisms derived from the particular phraseology of the KJV (and Tyndale before that): “new wine into old bottles” comes, of course, directly from Matthew 9:17. Crystal points out that the meaning of that phrase is both better appreciated when “wineskin” is substituted for “bottle” and also indifferent to the order of the words “new” and “old”.
Only Christian fundamentalists would disagree with such laxity of interpretation. It is curious that Muslim fundamentalists make use of exactly the same trick.
But what am I doing, writing about wine and bottles after my previous post?
- Measure for measure February 2, 2012
The Methodist Church has always maintained a strong witness against alcohol abuse and was a leader in the temperance movement including the “Band of Hope” in previous centuries. My own family suffered terrible damage from the behaviour of my alcoholic grandfather. Many Methodists today are tee-total and no alcohol is allowed on Methodist premises.
Today, a coalition of national Churches and charities has written to the Prime Minister asking him to introduce a minimum unit price on all alcohol sold in Britain when the Government’s alcohol strategy is announced later this month. David Cameron has indicated that he may be willing to introduce a minimum price of 40 – 50 pence per unit on alcohol, but the group is worried that these plans may be dropped under pressure from the drinks industry.
The group is also encouraging individuals to write to their MPs, highlighting the problems caused by cheap alcohol in their local area and asking them to support per unit minimum pricing. A range of resources for the ‘Measure for Measure’ campaign are available online here.
A YouGov survey conducted in December last year revealed that 61% of UK adults believe that excessive drinking is a problem (from minor to major) in their neighbourhood. The survey commissioned by the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union of Great Britain asked people to judge the effects of alcohol on the area within walking distance from their home, or where they use local facilities.
We already have Street Angels on the streets of Beeston. ”Measure for measure” is a wider political campaign aimed at the prevention of alcohol abuse, and deserves the support of churches like ours.
- Beeston Methodist Churches Together January 24, 2012
The co-ordinating committee working towards getting the five churches in Beeston and Chilwell together have determined that we should do nothing separately that we can do together. We have an online diary to help eliminate clashes of events.
Hope NG9 is developing and has come from the desire to care for those in need which has arisen from the current economic climate. Food is distributed from the Hope Cafe and clients are helped in different ways.
The Benevolent Society has helped the needy in Beeston and Chilwell for over 150 years. Their main source of income is from the Beeston Methodist Carol Choir singing around the streets of Beeston at Christmas.
Submitted by a Guest blogger at The Wesley Guild meeting 24 January.
- Thoughts on the web January 24, 2012
Worldwide web means just that, for when an internet site goes live it can be viewed anywhere in the world by anyone who has access to the net. It is therefore incumbent on those who have responsibility for controlling websites to ensure that:
- the site shows their organisation in the most positive light, emphasising its successes rather than its failures
- nothing is put on the site which is contentious or inflammatory, with a request for comments thus encouraging others to reply in a derogatory manner denigrating the organisation
- the church does not ‘wash its dirty laundry’ in public, thus giving the world a false impression about the organisation.
The worldwide web can be a good servant and used in the right way spread the gospel; but it can also be a bad master and very, very dangerous.
Submitted by a Guest blogger at the Wesley Guild meeting on 24 January.
- Change from Despair to Hope January 24, 2012
As part of a pulpit exchange for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity our visiting preacher was the Curate of Christ Church, Chilwell, Rev Sonia Barron.
Her theme was ‘We will all be changed’ and the service included a children’s address with a video-clip from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.
Change became Hope with illustrations of daffodil bulbs: dry bulbs to a flower. Her own personal tragedy highlighted the message of change and hope. Her clear delivery was well received and made the service readily accessible to all.
Submitted by a Guest blogger at the Wesley Guild Meeting on 24 January.
- We will all be changed January 22, 2012
Today is one of the few Special Sundays in our church calendar when a particular concern takes precedence over the common lectionary in determining the theme of our main worship service. This is the Sunday that falls within the octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, traditionally observed in mid-January between the Feasts of the Confession of St Peter and the Conversion of St Paul. So we have a visiting preacher from one of the local Anglican churches and our own minister is reciprocating elsewhere.
The particular flavour of the international celebration this year is the hope of transforming unity. “Change is at the heart of the ecumenical movement. When we pray for the unity of the church we are praying that the churches that we know and which are so familiar to us will change as they conform more closely to Christ. This is an exciting vision, but also a challenging one. Furthermore, when we pray for this transforming unity we are also praying for change in the world.”
You can read a summary of our Ecumenical activities here, but I don’t believe that we can take particular pride in our efforts in this sphere. We are struggling rather to put flesh on last year’s Church Council resolution to work towards closer ties with neighbouring Methodist churches. How much harder will it be to work effectively with clergy and congregations of other denominations, especially when there appears to be little more enthusiasm there than we ourselves show?
One ray of hope is the grass-roots level work with the Hope Café in Beeston, a joint enterprise between the churches, which is providing care for homeless and hungry people in the town. Another example of actions speaking louder than words?
- We three kings of orient are… January 10, 2012
I was somewhat surprised to receive, on January 6, a “gift from the Three Kings.” In our household we normally mark the twelfth day of Christmas only by packing away the decorations and sweeping up the needles from the drooping tree. No reading of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, no touring Sternsinger or other mumming and wassailing.
Methodists should not, however, neglect the insights written into Matthew’s nativity narrative [ch. 2] of the visit of the magi to the infant Christ in Bethlehem. Making a long journey from the east following some celestial sign, they brought treasured gifts and offered homage fit for a king. These eastern Gentiles, like Luke’s Jewish shepherds, had somehow divined the special character of Jesus. Christ’s incarnation was not just for the Jews, but for the world: for us all.
In continental Europe, January 6 is celebrated nationally and even politically. After David Cameron’s recent defence of Britain as a Christian country, we might hear even more about Epiphany in future years. The card manufacturers might catch on to it too!
- Hark, hark what news the angels bring December 22, 2011
The one perk you get from being the Church web-editor is that the Carol Choir (who have been singing round the streets of Beeston each Christmas since before the telephone was invented) come to perform under my lamp-post in my street.
So I took them out some figgy-pudding, so to speak, and off they went, but not before singing one of their classic numbers.
[Apologies for the poor picture quality: the photo-reporters have all gone off for Christmas.]
- Methodist President’s Christmas message December 22, 2011
When I looked at it, at first I could only see two wise men. “Where’s the third?” I immediately thought and then not long afterwards thought again, “But why should there be three anyway?” Yet we all bring our pre-suppositions to the Christmas story, don’t we, perhaps expecting to find not only three wise men but kings and innkeepers not to mention donkeys, holly, ivy and snow! But you’ll be hard pushed to discover any of them in the Gospel narratives – not even in the Authorised version! Even the wise men themselves of course had pre-conceptions that a king would be born in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. But when I glanced for a second and third time and in a different light I could eventually see where the third Wise Man was – and although it doesn’t add anything to the Gospel story it made me feel sentimentally better!
“Well perhaps this Christmas each of us needs to come again to this oh so familiar story, asking that God would take away the pre-supposition that we’ve seen it all or know it all and help us to reflect on things in a new light. Or perhaps to have light shed on something long since known but forgotten or ignored. For, if we look carefully, this simple story may have important things to say to us about many of the personal, social, religious and international issues facing us and our world today, and God’s part in them all.
“And challenging our pre-suppositions and opening our eyes is surely what God is always about, as I have discovered during my first six months as President, when, although some situations and people have been as I’d imagined, many haven’t and I’ve had to learn to look at things in a different light. And for the coming year you may already have imagined – or planned out – how life or faith or church is going to be. Well prepare to be surprised like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men were long ago! But remember too that the one who came and comes is named Emmanuel – God with us – so whatever may be different from what you imagine and however things may seem as a result, God remains the same – dwelling alongside you in grace, truth and love.
“May that same God bless you this Christmas and beyond!”
- However you dress it up, Christmas starts with Christ December 19, 2011
As part of our church’s outreach program, we have sponsored the placing of this advert on a hoarding near us. The aim is to keep Christmas focussed on Christ by retelling the story in a way which engages creatively and positively with people’s interests.
The national campaign organisers explained that they wanted to show the meeting of Christianity and consumerism, with Christ in the middle.
The Damien Hirst skull, the Fabergé egg and the Swarovski crystal perfume bottle are modern treasures that contrast shockingly with the poverty of our everyday culture, just as the traditional Wise Men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were treasures that must have surprised the holy family gathered in the Bethlehem stable.
The President of Conference has issued this Christmas message, bringing a new take to the Christmas story.
- Fair comment, evangelism or gloating? December 17, 2011
When the journalist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens died last week after a prolonged, painful and public illness, many good things were said about him by friends and antagonists alike. He was by all accounts a brilliant writer and communicator, a passionate advocate of unpopular causes, but also an outspoken critic of institutional religion. He had, for example, made excoriating comments about the missionary work of Mother Teresa, and (with Richard Dawkins) successfully debated religious issues in public with the great and the good, including Tony Blair. His most popular book was “God is not Great“, published in 2007.
So no friend of the church, except insofar he may have forced us to hone our debating skills to take the Christian apologetic argument to the masses.
Conventionally, funeral eulogies avoid controversy and skip over awkward issues, while obituarists are allowed to make more balanced judgements. Where does a newspaper cartoonist fit into this spectrum of taboos? This one, again from my daily paper today, seems to have overstepped the mark. While awarding Hitchens a unbegrudged halo, it denigrates his beliefs in as crude and unsympathetic a manner as would the hell-fire preacher of old. Let us not complain when the Atheist Review gives as good as it gets when it’s our turn to queue at the pearly gates.
- Unto us a child is born December 16, 2011
Christmas presents should be lovely surprises, richly valued and given with love and generosity. Here is one from last year that is worth recycling and enjoying again.
- Bramcote Parish Church launches new website December 16, 2011
Congratulations to Bramcote Parish Church who have launched their new website this month. They are using the same template as we do [WordPress Twenty-ten theme] so we might share ideas about presentation.
Not that they copied from us of course, anymore than we copied from the Bramcote Today community website! The template we really thought of using was this one from St Mary’s and St Peter’s Churches in Nottingham but it would have been too complicated.
- Living in peace with one another December 13, 2011
We are having a spot of bother at our church and an emergency church council has been called to sort it out. I’m involved, so I’ll try not to take sides here: it’s important that everyone gets a proper chance to have their say.
The immediate problem concerns mission among the poor; it relates to building community in the church; and it touches on good governance. These worthy objectives sometimes conflict, and achieving long-term aims may deflect us from doing what is best for now.
This week’s lectionary epistle [1 Thessalonians, probably the earliest of all NT writings] seems to provide a useful guide to our Christian conduct in Beeston today. Paul was writing to a congregation that was devoted to its faith while living in a church community. He values “prophetic utterances” but enjoins us to “examine everything carefully” and “appreciate those who diligently labour among us, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” In the end he urges, “help the weak, but be patient with everyone”.
- Come, and let us cast lots December 8, 2011
“Lessons in gambling urged for all children in schools” was the provocative headline in my paper recently. Gamcare, a think-tank funded by the gaming industry was giving evidence to a government review of Personal, Social, Health and Economics [PSHE] Education. They argued that “there is an urgent need to raise awareness amongst young people about the risks of problem gambling, and to educate those who might choose to gamble in adulthood to do so responsibly.”
Gamcare recognised the high prevalence of gambling in our society, but their approach was neither to ban it (even among children of whom 2% are already problem gamblers), nor reduce the everyday opportunities for gambling (by giving local authorities powers to refuse planning permission for betting shops), nor impose a compulsory levy on the gambling industry. Rather, they want gambling to be taught explicitly in schools!
Methodists have a long and honourable record of witness against gambling, as well as the drinking of alcohol. Half a dozen Standing Orders prohibit both on our premises, though in recent years some softer forms of gambling like raffles and amusements with small prizes have reluctantly been permitted. So what would our church have advised the Department of Education?
“The government must take action on child gambling and the clustering of betting shops, and fund independent research, education and treatment.” That was the concluding summary of similar evidence given by Methodists and others to another government inquiry into gambling last month. Note the phrase “education”. Let’s both educate the addicts, and teach the hazards of gambling before it gets a hold. Maybe the policies of the Methodist Church and Gamcare are not so far apart!
- They shook off the dust of their feet in protest December 4, 2011
Protests involving direct action are in the news again. UK public sector workers including teachers and hospital staff were out on strike last Wednesday, and anti-capitalist Occupy London protesters are still camped out in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. Tempers are raised on both sides; peace and harmony are disrupted. The disturbance caused both to the targets of the protest and to bystanders is equivalently matched by the sacrifice made and inconvenience incurred by the protesters themselves. We can legitimately ask: what is gained? To answer that question, we need to be clear what the protest’s primary objectives are. In particular, are they pleas or threats?
Is protest a form of witness, what we might call the prophetic voice, like Jesus over-turning the traders’ tables in the Temple in Jerusalem? Jesus was not seeking to bring about a final solution to commercialization of temple sacrifice arrangements when he lashed out in that passionate outburst. But he achieved what he set out to do: label such practices as wrong. Taking advantage of the equivalent of a modern-day photo-opportunity, Jesus ensured that his violent though brief token action was reported, discussed and interpreted for all time and throughout the world. Paul made a similar though lower-key protest in Corinth when the locals abused him after a particularly radical sermon in the synagogue. He shook out his clothes in protest and walked out: I’m off to preach to the Gentiles, he said.
Is protest rather a form of coercion, like Moses bringing plagues of frogs, gnats and flies (and worse) to Pharaoh’s court? Last week an Indian snake-charmer, made redundant in Uttar Pradesh, released poisonous snakes at Land Officers’ feet in protest against bureaucracy and the new health-and-safety regulations. The snakes were recaptured but he escaped, his protest (unlike Moses’) unsuccessful.
Is protest an easy way to avoid hard discussion and negotiation in smoked-filled rooms? Have all avenues been explored, all stones turned? Moses gave Pharaoh plenty of opportunity to meet him halfway, and only sent in the plagues as a last resort.
If we in the church are on the receiving end of a protest movement, we need to be sure we have listened to the protesters and given them every opportunity to make their point. They may even have right on their side, but so, of course, may we. That’s quite another matter.
- The heart of the matter: reforming the NHS November 26, 2011
A team from the local NHS had booked a hall at church for a well-attended public meeting. The GP who chaired it had shouldered the burden of responsibility for managing the commissioning of specialist services for patients in our town. He outlined the proposed reforms and answered tough questions about cost efficiencies, privatization, and accountability. Patient care got barely a mention.
In another room in church the Ladies’ Circle was meeting. Originally the Wives’ Group, they had adapted to the passing decades with a change of name and gentler topics for discussion. That night they were reminiscing on postal services down the years and showed memorabilia of pillar boxes and postmen’s gear – until a long-standing and faithful member collapsed suddenly in their very midst.
Quick as a flash, our GP was summoned and his audience were left to continue their discussion without him, barely distracted by the comings and goings through the coffee bar nearby; blue lights flashing, paramedics arriving with stretchers and, finally, ladies slowly departing for home. After a few minutes he returned to the hall and quietly concluded his conciliatory and explanatory task.
Unbeknown to the meeting, the GP’s prompt ministrations had been to no avail and our good friend had died. While they had been focussing on the future care of hypothetical individuals grouped by social class and postcode, he had been engaging face-to-face with an actual patient in the ultimate struggle for survival.
I saw there two aspects of the church’s ministry of healing which belong together: both are necessary and both are important. As Christian citizens we engage in both, offering personal care as well as sharing in the responsibility for organising care for the community as a whole. Neither form of care guarantees success in every case: but we do need to put effort into doing our best in both.
For me, the symbolic link between preventive and curative, social and personal was the stethoscope I noticed sticking out of the GP’s pocket at the start of our meeting. The clinician is the crucial link between the patient and the provision of medical care. With practitioners in the centre of the decision-making processes in the NHS, there is surely a good chance that we are all better served as patients.
- Mission in Britain inspired by St Martin of Tours November 20, 2011
The church honoured Martin of Tours on his Saint’s Day last week. This 4th century Roman soldier cut his cloak in half for a destitute beggar he met on the streets of Amiens. That cloak [capella, Lat.] became the symbol for almsgiving and, curiously, gave rise to the label ‘chaplain’ and even to the name of the place where they worked – chapels.
Methodists continue his tradition in several ways. Our communities meet in chapels, up and down the country. Even the Primitive Methodists of the 19th century, expelled from mainstream Methodism for preaching in the open air, built hundreds of chapels in their early years.
Contemporary Methodism uses chaplaincy as a model (among others) for its Mission in Britain. Rev Robert Jones, Chaplaincies Coordinator at Church House, inspired us today with his vision of outreach into our multi-faith society. The church equips and funds chaplains to work in schools, hospitals, prisons, workplaces and even casinos! Lay and ordained, they listen to and care for people, and transform communities. They work for people; they work for us; and they work for God.
- Beware Jerusalem November 17, 2011
Organists sometimes complain about the music chosen for funerals. Mostly it’s a question of suitability: too frivolous, too loud, too corny etc; not in keeping with the solemnity and seriousness of the occasion. But I was faced with a somewhat different problem today as “duty organist”. It wasn’t so much the playing of “popular” music on CD for the processions in and out. It was the choice of hymns, or at least one of them. It was Jerusalem: William Blake’s poem set to a magnificent tune by Hubert Parry. What’s wrong with that? I hear you asking: it’s played at the Last Night of the Proms. What is wrong with it is that it’s quite difficult to play, even on a grand, century-old 3-manual instrument like ours!
When amateurs like me volunteer to play in public (and a church funeral is indeed public; there must have been three hundred mourners in the pews today), there is an unwritten understanding with the minister or church management or the funeral director about what is playable and what is not. If I were drawing up a job description for a new duty organist, it would include ‘playing any hymn in our Methodist hymnbook competently and at a decent tempo given a few days notice in which to practice’, perhaps equivalent to a merit at Grade 7 or distinction at Grade 6.
I reckon that Jerusalem is more difficult than that. I once attempted it at a church more than a thousand miles from here and made a mess of it. I resolved then never to play it again so I didn’t even have a copy when the order of service arrived, days after I’d agreed to play. I could have asked to be excused duty. I could have asked the minister to get the family to choose something else. I could have got a CD for the congregation to sing to, karaoke-style. What I couldn’t have done was play it on the piano: that’s even more difficult! But I could learn it, and that’s what I did, having borrowed a copy from a senior organist colleague.
It took hours of practice; it almost took blood, sweat and tears. And I had to leave undone those other things that I ought to have done. Sometimes in this situation you play quietly so that no-one notices the mistakes. You can’t do that with Jerusalem with its prominent introduction, interlude and postlude: it has to be played with all the stops out: fortissimo albeit molto lento. So that’s what I did, and verily the church workers in the office beneath shook with the sound thereof.
I expect I’ll be accused of exaggerating the difficulty, but on my performance today I think I might just have scraped a pass at Organ Grade 8. I do hope the family and the congregation were content. I will do some more practice on it, but don’t let that encourage anyone to choose Jerusalem for their funeral, please.
- Poppies white and red November 10, 2011
The annual Remembrance service is always uncomfortable for pacifists in particular and non-conformists in general. Methodists don’t have an “official” liturgy for the occasion beyond a special collect, but we normally observe the national two minutes’ silence and may alter the order of service and even the start time to allow this to happen at 11 o’clock precisely. We sometimes invite uniformed organisations to parade with their flags, and organists will have brushed up Elgar’s Nimrod and Walford Davies’ Solemn Melody. Dress code: red poppies.
The wearing of red poppies is clearly costume de rigueur on BBC television, and many Methodists in our pews will expect people to wear them in church this Sunday, especially preachers, choristers and others in visible leadership positions. They will probably associate poppies with the (supposed) Christian virtues of patriotism, respect for authority, and support for military force as a legitimate means of defence for Western nations. And they may associate the non-wearing of red poppies as unpatriotic, disrespectful, and ungrateful for our Armed Forces – as if the freedom fought for by the fallen soldiers does not include the freedom not to wear red poppies.
But poppies are primarily for remembrance: remembering the sacrifices of soldiers (not just those fighting for “our” side), remembering the tragedy and waste of warfare, and perhaps remembering that the inexorable outcome of the recruitment, training, deployment of young men and (now) women in the military is the killing of other young men and (now) women. British Legion’s red poppies have, however, acquired a veneer of nationalism and militarism that can easily overshadow a proper focus on the personal sacrifice of individual soldiers.
Poppies don’t feature in the King James Bible, but “Thou shalt not kill” does. I will be playing Nimrod on Sunday morning, but I shall be wearing a white poppy, promoted by the Peace Pledge Union.