Category Archives: faith

All Are Welcome?

This blog has been a while in the writing, so its not quite recent anymore, but I still felt I needed to say it.

In church last week we sang All Are Welcome, one of my favourite songs from the Common Ground songbook (the full lyrics are part way down this page), which was the first hymn at our wedding, so it now has added special meaning. We chose this song and put it at the start of the service very deliberately, because we wanted to say this to everyone there, regardless of age, faith (or none), gender, sexual orientation or any other factor. We wanted to get rid of all the preconcieved ideas anyone might have had about what was expected of them or anyone else, or of how ‘the church’ saw or would judge them. Here is a place where we come as we are, with all that that means, and its ok. The first verse goes like this:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

These seem to me to be the kinds of aspirations Jesus would teach us to work for. A place where “all can safely live”, where saints and children each have something to teach us, and where everyones hopes and dreams are valued. “here the love of Christ shall end divisions” In this place, all distinctions, all differences, are stripped away, for we are all equal within the love of God and in Gods eyes.

It struck me even more recently, that the church, while we might have these aspirations, very often doesn’t meet them. The frequency with which churches determine who is or isn’t welcome, and erect barriers between different groups and denominations. Far from the love of Christ ending divisions, it appears to create them, as we decide for ourselves what God would think, and who he would welcome into his Churches. I believe this is wrong, that it is the worst kind of wrong that we can commit, particularly when it is done in the name of Jesus, who I don’t believe would agree with it any more than I do. And if he would, I’m not sure he is a God I want to follow.

But while all these things are happening, there are also things which restore my faith and pursuade me that God is working in people’s lives and bringing his message to us. I know of people who will take a stand to prevent such hurt and pain being felt by their fellow people, and to make sure the message passed on to our children is one of tolerance and welcome not of exclusion.

And the other week I saw via a number of links the image of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer during the protests in Egypt. I took notice- it was a striking image of the love of God at work, of a group of Christians acting on their beliefs. But then later, as I was thinking again about the song, and the line ‘the love of Christ shall end divisions’ came back to me, I realised that it shouldn’t be striking. Why is it that a group of Christians acting to protect another group of people when they are vulnerable should be news worthy, even within the church community? Shouldn’t this be ‘normal’? Isn’t this how we should live our faith?

The God I believe in and try to follow told us that we should love others as we would want to be loved. There weren’t any conditions on that, no footnote with exceptions. Just love.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayer of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

Covenant and Marriage

A week today we will be married. We’ve spent the last week saying ‘wow its very soon’ about every half hour or so. Its quite funny. So exciting, nervous in a very small way because its a big event and you want everything to go well.. “Like stage fright rather than cold feet!” was how Chris put it when I was saying why I might be nervous come the day itself!! Quite accurate really, why on earth would I have cold feet when I’ve been looking forward to this for a year?!

On Tuesday I had my last unmarried birthday. In a way that shouldn’t be significant, being married or not doesn’t really change a birthday, but being this close to the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life gives everything a special significance. It’s a very odd, slightly nervous tingly feeling when people ask when we’re getting married and I can now say ‘next week’! As someone who really enjoys the anticipation as well as the event, this time is really special. And I’m so glad we’ve been properly organised, because now there’s not that much left to do, so we can just enjoy it!

Last Sunday we had covenant service at church. This is the annual service where we remember the new covenant God made with his people, and promise to fulfill our part in the life God wants us to live. I always find it very meaningful, but this year it also has extra significance as I thought about the ‘covenant’ I will make with Chris in a short time. In the service we say ‘I am no longer my own, but yours’, and I was thinking about this a lot as the thought of our wedding was inevitably on my mind. I don’t believe that I ‘belong’ to any one person, and at the wedding I won’t be ‘given away’ by my Dad even though he will walk down the aisle with me. If there is any giving to be done I will be the one doing it. But that is the point: I choose. And I choose this person, and because I do, I also choose that it is not *my* will any more, but *ours*. In the same way as in the covenant service where I consent to live my life the way God would wish, here I consent to live as part of a couple, whether that means I am able to live as I want and go where I want, or whether I am asked to compromise or sacrifice these for the sake of another. I will make these promises, and, as the text says, with God’s help I will try to hold to them. I pray that Chris will be patient with me as I try!

Singing our faiths

Tonight I went to an interfaith service at my church, which was a joint service between the various faith groups in Marylebone, the part of London the church is in. This is an annual service which moves around the different faith groups each year, and this year we were hosting.

The service was an amazing experience, and one of the few times the interfaith label was accurate. Many times we use the word for all sorts of occasions- a service where we invite a representative from the local Jewish community along, a meeting where we talk with other Christians about how we are working to build links with the Mosque down the road, a service where we use prayers or songs from another faith tradition. What was so stunning about this evenings service was that this was no nod towards another type of worship, there was no token representative of ‘another faith’, because we were all there together. In some ways, I think it would be misleading to call it inclusive, because here it was no one’s responsibility to include or exclude, because we were all equal partners sharing in this act of worship.

The theme of the service was ‘singing our faiths’, a common thread to all the faiths, whether in song as we would think of it, or in sung prayers or chants. Lucy Winkett gave an interesting address in which she quoted Augustine who said that a person who sings prays twice! How true that is, I’ve often thought. Lucy also commented how one of the aspects of tonight was to find the common threads between us, one of which being the use of our breath, which is used differently in song than in speech. And, she said, perhaps how singing can mean praying twice!

Singing our faiths was an apt theme for a service hosted by the Methodists, and what better contribution from our church choir than a setting of Love Divine! The other faiths contributed song, prayer, chant and more. Particularly moving was the Buddhist contribution, a prayer for mind and body, with no other explanation or interpretation needed. With no distraction from words or attempting to understand, the chant carried me away from the chaos of life to another place, just for a short time. Beautiful, and much needed.

It also occurred to me, as I listened and watched the Buddhists and the Muslim call to prayer, how easy and natural the song was to them. We in our choir have rehearsed many hours, we have sheet music and a conductor to guide us, and will often get hung up on a note being too long or not loud enough at the right point. I learnt a lesson from my fellow singers, who without music or guidance, produced a wonderful sound, not so much because of its quality, but because it was sung in faith, and with meaning. I don’t think we Methodists can claim the monopoly on singing our faith!

Seek and ye shall find

I’m not really a believer in those ‘open up the bible at the right page and it will answer your question’ theories. Quite honestly, I think if I’m going to get an answer to my question, its going to come when I don’t expect it, not on cue because thats when I want it.

But. This lent I’ve restarted the words for today daily readings, partly in an attempt to pull myself out of a kind of spiritual wilderness of only ever really thinking about faith as part of writing sermons. Anyway, I also decided I wanted to read Marks Gospel, cos I never have and people say its a good one to read, and its one of the modules on the LP course, to name a few reasons.

The chapter I got to today had the story of the storm at sea. The disciples are caught in the most terrible storm, the boat is rocking and they’re all about to be tossed overboard. And Jesus is asleep. Nevermind how is he sleeping through that in the first place (doesn’t anyone else ever think that?), the disciples are yelling at him to wake up and sort things out.

Jesus, for goodness sake, what are you doing just sitting by and letting this happen? Can’t you see things are really difficult here? We’re going to drown in a minute if you don’t do something! And he stands up, and stills the storm. And asks them ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’

Well that told me. I’m not sure I always believe it, like the disciples I frequently doubt and think I’ve been forgotten, that he ought to have done something by now. But maybe I need to hear those words more often.

This week I have a job interview. The right job, in the right place, at what is pretty much the perfect time. Very soon things in my current job start to get crazy again, I lose my free time, and probably my mind. People expect me to start committing to other things here, which are made harder by the hours I work. This is it, and the prospect of not getting it is scary. And I’m tempted to yell at God ‘why haven’t you sorted it out yet?’ Today I think I needed to hear those words.

Wilderness times

Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. He was tempted by satan, and depending which account you read he was fasting also. He was in this desert, a vast, featureless landscape, with no one and nothing nearby. Utterly alone, abandoned, apparently, by God.

With nothing to distract him, his thoughts come tumbling over each other, unable to keep track or to hold them, he is overwhelmed, his mind circling out of control. Questions with no answers, people too far away, worries he cannot ease, and the time dragging on with no hope of relief. And deep down the knowledge that soon, he still has a job to do.

This is not the wilderness we like to think of during lent. This isn’t an emptiness borne of giving up chocolate, or tea, or swearing. This isn’t the making time to pray a bit, or spend 10 minutes reading the bible each day. This isn’t a wilderness we can create,  which is neat and tidy and restricted to these 40 days. An experience which is slightly uncomfortable, but not too much, bearable because it is quantifiable.

This isn’t an experience which we choose for 6 weeks each year, and lets face it, if we could, we wouldn’t. But that’s not to say we’ve not been into this wilderness. Whether only for an hour or two, or for months or years at a time. Either way, we have been there, and because we have, we can understand.

It is in this place, in the grip of these feelings which we would like to forget, that Jesus spends these next 40 days and nights. He has been there too. We are not alone.

Watch and wait

This Sunday marks the beginning of advent, in the church calendar even if not according to my advent calendar (I have to wait till tomorrow for the first chocolate :()

Its a time of preparation, of waiting for the coming of Jesus and making ready for his arrival. The gospel writers tell us to keep watch so that he ‘will not find you sleeping’. And at the end of his life, Jesus himself repeats the message, talking then not about his birth but about his coming in glory at the end of the age. What some refer to as the second coming. But what does this really mean for us?

Jesus tells us to prepare for the time when ‘heaven and earth will pass away’ and a new world will be born- the kingdom of God, in which he will rule in glory. Looking at it this way, are we really to sit back and simply wait and watch? Or will we be, as Jesus calls us to be, the founders of his kingdom on earth, here, today?

If we take on this responsibility, we begin to be able to approach the waiting of advent very differently. We are able to see the preparations as not just getting ready for Christmas and the birth of Christ, but being ready for the coming of his kingdom. And more than that, the kingdom becomes not something which is far off and yet to arrive, but something which is here in the present, which we ourselves are involved in bringing about.

Doubts

Not me, not now. Look, I’ve had a difficult day today, it looks like its turning into a difficult week to be quite honest. I can’t do it right now, I’m sorry.

I said at the time (well, thought it) that you’d picked the wrong person. I didn’t think I had it in me, that I’d be able to find anything to say, cope with the pressure. But you would insist wouldn’t you? My objections just didn’t seem to register. Well, will you accept now that maybe I was right?

No. I didn’t think so. Why can’t you realise that I’m not cut out for this? How do you expect me to see through all this stuff to be able to find anything worth saying, or more importantly, worth hearing? Another time, when I’m feeling better, but not now. Please?

But don’t you want someone who knows what they’re doing, who can give themselves to it properly without all this worry and anguish?

I was afraid you might say that.

Ok. Here I am.

Of preaching and red skirts

This morning I delivered my first service in my new circuit. And it went rather well, if I do say so myself. I wasn’t the only one to say so, I even managed to impress Mr Critical (otherwise known as my other half, who has a tendancy to be picky about preachers), who hadn’t seen me do any preaching before. And I had various other positive comments and reactions from the congregation. I may well blog about the service itself at some point, but needless to say I was rather pleased with it. Now its on to the next one, countdown two weeks..

The other item of news, in relation to my last two posts, is firstly, as you may have guessed, I didn’t get that job. I wasn’t overly disappointed at this, being quite surprised at having an interview at all, and given I really didn’t have a lot of experience of the computer programme that was a large part of the job I was told I still came a close second, which was pretty good. The other thing I was told, in a message they left to tell me I hadn’t got it, was that they had another job coming up that they were really keen for me to apply for. Well, as keen as you can sound when you’re not meant to ask someone to put in an application. Anyway, this was positive, so I applied, and surprise surprise, the next day I got a phone call asking me to come for an interview. Which is on Tuesday, at the same time as the last one. Interesting coincidences. Somehow I don’t think I’ll need directions to the office. I’m not too worried about getting it or not, I’m still impressed to have got interviews this early on. I’ll just do what I can, and when the right job comes up I’ll be ready.

Oh, and the other thing to mention about the quirks of preaching round here. I had a meeting with the lady who was meant to be preaching today earlier in the week, and among other pieces of ‘advice’ was told how when she started preaching the women had to wear black or grey, and ‘of course its not like that anymore’, but they were all a little shocked when one particular female preacher turned up to her first service with a ‘red swishy skirt and dangly earrings’. Horror of horrors! And a comment was also made about some people possibly being unsure about the fact I have my nose pierced. Terrible, what was I thinking?! I’m just sorry I didn’t have a red swishy skirt to wear this morning..

Farewell, farewell

So its nearly October already, with the usual talk of summer having gone too fast, nights drawing in, and “how many days till Christmas?” I saw crackers in a supermarket this weekend. Sigh.

But the end of September this year is another milestone- the end of the bat survey season! The big cheeses in the environmental world have to assign an arbitrary end point to the warmer summer months and the start of cooler weather and lower bat activity, and that end point is today. So with the beginning of October, the bats are out less and less, and, thankfully, so are we ecologists. As much as the bat watching is interesting, I won’t be sorry to not have to set my alarm for 3.30am any more!!

The other thing that this next month will bring will be the start of my local preaching in my new home town. At the beginning of September I went to my first preachers meeting here, and apart from lowering the average age by a good 20 or 30 years, it still felt good to be involved, and getting back into the things I used to do before I moved made me feel like I’m still me, even if I am somewhere else! So I now have 3 dates between now and Christmas, and even some ideas for them! Having spent a good while trying to get this sorted, it all seemed to fall into place in no time at all. The whole thing still makes me more than a little nervous, but also quite excited at the thought of being able to get stuck in again, which I’m taking to be a good combination.

Of preaching and needles

Wow, blogging two days in a row.. its almost like I’ve got free time or something. So, other things which happened this week, not course-related.

On Tuesday I went to my first Local Preachers meeting here. Scary or what? No idea what to expect, I’ve met the Super once (when he didn’t know I was me, if that makes sense!), and spoken the secretary on the phone. The minutes had a slot specifically devoted to discussing what to do with me (I paraphrase here). Interesting. The other thing which bugged me a little was the secretary insisting on using titles at all times in the agenda, therefore labelling me as Miss on at least 3 occasions. Those who know me know this isn’t smart. A little annoying, given a) he had no idea whether I was married or single, if in doubt surely even the most trad would stick with Ms? b) Miss always conjours up images of an 8 year old in a frilly dress. That or happy families. And needless to say I’m neither. Maybe thats just me. Hmm.

Anyway, the meeting went well in the end. A friendly, if not large group, of which I managed to lower the average age quite significantly! It was agreed that I could basically take on some dates planned for other preachers, and that they could then come along and observe/help out etc but basically get a day off. I think this idea went down well. There were suggestions of forming a queue. All in all, quite a positive result. Now I just have to remember this whole sermon-writing thing. Gulp.

The other thing that happened this week is I went to my GP yesterday to ask about vaccinations. I’ve not mentioned this here yet, but for Christmas this year we’re going to Africa! Chris’ parents are off on what can best be described as a gap year, travelling and volunteering in various African countries for 8 or 9 months, and are having us all (him and brothers, and me!) over to Kenya for Christmas. Like you do. So, my first Christmas away from home, not just another city, a whole different continent. Never do things by halves eh? But its all very exiting, so many new experiences all at once, but we’re doing it together, so whatever happens it’ll be good. So anyway, I thought I should get some idea of how many times they’ll want to stab me with needles before I go. It turns out not much, 3 in fact, two of which were free and could be given straight away. So in less than half an hour I was in, punctured in each arm, and out again. One more but thats lots closer to when we go, and thats it. The last time I had injections was probably school. I’d forgotten how much the upper arm hurts afterwards, the muscles just don’t like being used right now! Or lay on.

So there, it feels like its been a rather full week. And today I’m off to sunny south Wales for the proms in the park, so if you’re around there I might see you. Just don’t be offended if you hug me and I yelp!